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Murder on the Chopping Block–movie set turns violent

Murder on the Chopping Block

by Shawn Reilly Simmons

Murder on the Chopping BlockThe Red Carpet Catering Mystery Series is always open to new adventures because the main character, Penelope Sutherland, is the owner of a catering company that provides meals and snacks for movie productions. So, Penelope and her crew have to travel to wherever the setting for a film is. In Murder on the Chopping Block, they are in Salacia Beach, California, near Monterey. 

Author Shawn Reilly Simmons really knows how to move a cozy mystery along. She uses fairly short chapters, but they end up making you want to jump into the next one. This book has just the right amount of character focus, intrigue, and action combined with a little romance and settings that range from cliffs along the Pacific to beautiful homes of the wealthy. A fun character in this cozy is Mirabella, a cat with an important role.

When a shot rings out on the movie set, the blood is not fake, and Penelope jumps into action. She also overhears a domestic incident that later leads to violence. She picks up on  a lot of clues that others might miss by being observant when she is in the right place at the right time. When others notice her perceptiveness, however, things get dangerous for her.

I would like to extend my thanks to Edelweiss 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: #7 in the Red Carpet Catering Mystery Series, but works well as a standalone as this plot is not dependent on understanding an extensive character background.

Publication:   September 17, 2019—Henery Press

Memorable Lines:

“Come on, sweetie,” Penelope said in a soft voice. Mirabella stared at her, acting like she wasn’t going to follow, then rose up on stiff legs and strutted toward the gate as if it was her idea in the first place.

“I never even thought about what happens to animals after…” “The unexpected happens,” Brice finished her thought. “You know how it is. A lot of people have pets. Even criminals have pets. When stuff goes down, these guys are impacted too. Kids and animals, they suffer the most, if you ask me.”

“Forgiveness is its own reward,” Joey said. “It’s easier and healthier to forgive than it is to carry around a grudge forever.”

Burning Ridge–searching for family

Burning Ridge

by Margaret Mizushima

Burning RidgeThe action starts in Burning Ridge in the first chapter where readers also get filled in on the series background and meet some of the characters. From a rough and tumble bar fight, this novel moves on to a bright and sunny horseback ride for Cole, the local veterinarian, and his daughters in the Colorado mountains. The family ride turns dark and the mystery begins.

Margaret Mizushima has written a K-9 police procedural. No cozy mystery, this work of fiction looks at an evil-plotting mind plagued by excesses of greed. Main characters Deputy Mattie Cobb and her K-9 partner Robo find themselves in danger as she tries to solve a horrific crime that turns personal. Many are involved in finding the murderer, and there are a variety of suspects. Get ready for a surprise ending. In the process of the investigation, Mattie discovers parts of her past that she never knew as well as secrets buried deep in her psyche. She learns to accept help and to expand her ideas of what constitutes a family.

Burning Ridge is a page turner as are the other books in this fast moving series. It contains lots of information about K-9 officers shared in a non-didactic fashion.

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

Rating: 5/5

Category: Mystery, Thriller

Notes: 1. This is #4 in the Timber Creek K-9 Mystery Series. It is good as a standalone, but be aware that each book reveals a little more about Mattie’s past as she comes to grips with it.

2. This contains more upsetting violence than I usually read, but it is within the acceptable boundary for me. Everyone is different so be aware that it contains some torture.

Publication:   September 11, 2018—Crooked Lane Books

Memorable Lines:

An occasional clump of young aspen shot up toward the cloudless blue sky. Spring leaves, bright green and as yet unblemished by summer dryness, quivered at the ends of branches, their spade-like shape seeming to catch even the slightest of breezes. “Look at the aspen leaves, girls. They’re dancing.”

Robo lay on his cushion, his eyes pinned on her every move. She’d learned from experience that her emotions went straight to her dog.

“Life can be full of regrets if you focus on them. We make decisions for whatever reasons we have in the moment, not because we have some superhuman vision of what will happen in the future.”

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.

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.

Lowcountry Bookshop–good intentions

Lowcountry Bookshop

by Susan M. Boyer

Lowcountry BookshopIn Lowcountry Bookshop, Susan M. Boyer outdoes her last cozy mystery which I thought was  good. In this book Liz Talbot and her husband Nate, both private investigators, are hired anonymously through an attorney to prove the innocence of a very sweet mail carrier who stopped at the scene of a hit and run. The plot is very complex and involves a group of women who try to help victims of domestic violence.

Watching Liz and Nate go about their business of investigating the crime and the people involved is very interesting. They have tools, disguises, and methods that they use to pursue the truth regardless of where it leads them.

In the middle of some pretty intense scenarios, there is a little comic relief as Liz’s family deals with a situation involving a Bassett hound, a pig with a broken leg, three escape artist goats, and a backyard dug in preparation for a swimming pool. As you can imagine, “Mamma ain’t happy” and everyone knows it.

Set in the Charlestown area of South Carolina, Lowcountry Bookshop features heat, humidity, and Southern charm. This mystery will keep you on your toes as you follow its complexities and guess who did it and why—right up until the end.

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: 1.  #7 in the Liz Talbot Mystery Series but works as a standalone

2.  Slight paranormal aspect: One character is a helpful guardian spirit. Frankly, she contributes little to the solving of the mystery and could easily be removed without harming the plot.

Publication:   May 29, 2018—Henery Press

Memorable Lines:

Sunday morning arrived on air as thick as mamma’s gravy.

At five in the morning, it was already eighty-three degrees.

Everyone had baggage. Some of us had heavier bags than others.

Ebb and Flow–some good in everyone

Ebb and Flow

by Heather T. Smith

Ebb and FlowEbb and Flow is a sad, emotionally laden story of sins, redemption and forgiveness. It is written in free verse and as such leads to tremendous teaching opportunities. Because rhyming poetry is so easily identifiable for children, it can be difficult to explain the difference between poetry and prose when the poetry does not rhyme. Ebb and Flow is a whole book of examples to demonstrate the concept. It also is an excellent exemplar of poetry as a form of storytelling. The poems in this book demonstrate the effectiveness of well-chosen words. All of these ideas are appropriate to the intended age range of eight to twelve years (grades four to seven).

As an adult I was moved by the book which lets Jett tell his own story of a father in jail, a move to a new town intended to provide a fresh start, and a disastrous year in the new surroundings. There is hope for Jett in a summer visit to a think-outside-the-box grandmother who sees the good in Jett and provides opportunities for him to work through his issues. Although  the problems addressed in the book are a reality to be endured for some children, in general they are above the maturity level of most eight year olds: child abuse, spousal abuse, incarceration, homelessness, and the maturity level of some special needs adults. While it could be helpful to some children, it could be frightening to others. Some parents would also object to the expletives found in two places in the book; personally I didn’t understand their inclusion as they did not add to the book in any way.

Thus I recommend the book with the reservation of parental guidance needed for language and content. There is little that is graphic but the overtone is emotionally charged despite the hopeful ending.

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

Rating: 4/5

Category: Children’s Fiction, Poetry

Notes: 1. warnings for domestic violence and swearing

  2. Age Range: 8-12 years

  3. Grade Level: 4-7

Publication:  April 3, 2018—Kids Can Press

Memorable Lines:

I just wanted to say

I’m glad you are here.

And all of a sudden, 

I was more than just air.

 

So,

you think,

when I grow up,

I can be someone?

Grandma’s face went soft.

You ARE someone, dear.

You’re my Jett.

 

She gave me the room in the attic,

the one with the view of the sea.

Of all the rooms

in all the world

it was the awesomest room

of them all.

It made me feel cozy

and glow-y

and warm,

like a light had turned on

in my heart.

Watching the Detectives–a funny cozy mystery featuring the 70’s

Watching the Detectives

by Julie Mulhern

Watching the DetectivesWatching the Detectives is a funny, action packed, cozy mystery you don’t want to miss. In fact, you’ll want to read the whole series. Julie Mulhern continues to make the early 70’s come alive with details like plaid sports jackets for men, twin sets for women, and Polaroid cameras. She even jokes about squeaking naugahyde chairs at the hospital: “many nagas had given their hydes for that chair.”

The main character, Ellison, is a part of the country club world, but she is so down-to-earth and practical that she is endearing. Besides, you have to feel for anyone who stumbles across so many bodies. Yes, that’s Ellison!

A prominent feature of this book is the conflict between Ellison and her domineering mother. Her mother resembles Emily Gilmore in the TV show The Gilmore Girls—always right and very controlling. There continue to be two love interests in Ellison’s life—lawyer Hunter Tafft who is Ellison’s mother’s pick and Anarchy Jones who sets off fireworks in Ellison’s heart.

It is difficult to keep a constant underlayment of humor in a book that features serious issues such as murder and spousal abuse, but Mulhern does it respectfully and effectively and leaves the reader wanting more.

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: Historical Fiction, Mystery

Notes: #5 in the Country Club Murders, but works as a standalone

Publication:   May 23, 2017—Henery Press

Memorable Lines:

Mr. Coffee might not be able to solve all the world’s problems or clean the study, but things tended to look brighter after he’d worked his magic.

Reality was ex-wives living in efficiency apartments and spritzing perfume at makeup counters because they had no job skills. Reality was their ex-husbands reliving their youths with girls not yet old enough to know better. Reality was rather bleak.

“Your mother has a strong personality,” she said. Attila the Hun had a strong personality. Mother was a mile-wide tornado with hundred-fifty-mile-per-hour winds.”

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