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Thursday, March 31, 2011

Review - Divine Circle of Ladies Tipping the Scales

It is springtime and some areas are seeing some evidence of warmer temperatures.  Lawns are beginning to show some green, buds are showing on tree limbs and so on.  But it is also time to catch up on my favorite paranormal mystery series.  So please join me in a little trip to Massachusetts to visit with some extraordinary women who solve mysteries in their unique way.

Author:  Dolores Stewart Riccio

Copyright:  August 2010 (CreateSpace) 412 pgs

Series:  7th in Divine Circle/Cass Shipton Mystery

Sensuality:  mild

Mystery Sub-genre:
  Cozy, amateur sleuth

Main Character:  Cassandra Shipton, Herbalist and Clairvoyant

Modern day, Plymouth Massachusetts

Obtained Through:  Library

I must provide a disclaimer right up front - this is my favorite paranormal mystery series.  I think of it as the trailblazer for this series started long before a paranormal mystery was the "in" thing.

Let me introduce you to the five phenomenal women who are the Divine Circle:

Cassandra, the viewpoint character, is an herbalist and reluctant clairvoyant. 

Phillipa, a cookbook author and poet who reads the Tarot a little too accurately.

Heather, an heiress and animal lover.  She makes magical candles and runs the local pet rescue.

Deidre, recently widowed who crafts dolls and magical amulets for sale in her boutique besides being a mother of four young children who now communicates with the dead.

Fiona, the eccentric librarian who dowses with a crystal and is a fount of information - the wise woman of the group with a hippie side.  Don't let her "mature" age fool you!

I am including Freddie, Cassandra's daughter-in-law who has telekinetic abilities is back in this adventure with the CIA wanting to recruit her.

Cassandra gets called up for jury duty in the gruesome case of a home invasion that ended in a double murder of a mother and daughter.  The two men being tried for the case seem obvious killers, but Cass being clairvoyant knows the case isn't so cut and dry as everybody thinks.  Even the elderly mother of the murdered woman insists justice isn't being done and pleads with Cass to get involved.  The murdered daughter starts making appearances to Deidre too.  Cassandra digs into the case more.

 Heather enlists Cass's time and talents to help hunt down a dog fighting ring and shut it down.  Freddie even does some remote viewing to scope out the location. But during a night-time covert reconnaissance they inadvertently tip-off the operator of the dog-fight ring.  Trouble is brewing with each passing day, but will it be the murderer or the dog fight operator who decides to stop the Circle's intervention?

In each book the circle helps a person in need, this time it is a domestic abuse victim who has some psychic talents of her own.  Ashling levitates without thinking about it and is being haunted by her recently deceased husband.  Ashling is another delightful addition and it appears she maybe back in the next book which I am looking forward to. 

The characters in this series seem to get better and better with each book. I must say I really missed Tip in this one since he is away at college.  This is what I mean, all of the characters become your book buddies and you want to spend time with them.  So even Tip was missed as he is part of this family. It is heartwarming to see that widowed Deidre may have a chance at love again with an old high school friend who has returned to Plymouth.  

Each one of the women in the circle are so well developed that you feel you could sit and have tea (or a nip of something stronger) with them and love every minute.

The dual plot is played out well, keeping the reader drawn in with each new development.  Each plot has its related consequences and danger involved.  Each plot touches me.  for instance, what would you do and how would you feel if you thought a sadistic dog-fight ring were running in your neighborhood? You experience what a vet feels as they treat a trained fight dog and try to rehabilitate it.  But you get to be one of the people snooping and getting photos to give to the police in this story as well.  Even the trial of the double murder - what would you do if you were in the jury box but clairvoyantly saw what happened and nobody else knows what the truth is? Wouldn't you want justice done?  You can tell the style of writing puts you in their shoes from my descriptions. 

The climax is realistic and gets a cheer from the reader and the wrap up is a set up for the next adventure hinting at Cass getting involved in one of hubby's Greenpeace jobs.  Hmmmmm.  I can't wait.

The book is fantastic.  A bit of everything from a touch of romance, suspenseful danger, adventure, a wee bit of magic, pets, cooking, family, sisterhood and close friends, varied characters of different ages and backgrounds all against the backdrop of the Massachusetts changing seasons.  This isn't a book to read, it is a story to experience with these five phenomenal women.

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Monday, March 28, 2011

Fill in the Blank - Mystery Game

The idea is to try and fill in the blank of each of these mystery book titles.  Some are classics and some are more current.  I have to admit - I think these are challenging!!

In a few days I will provide the answers and you can share how well you did.

Let's give this a try.

1)  The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest 

2)  In The Heat of the Night 

3)  Murder Must Advertise

4)  The Hound of the Baskerville

5)  The 39 Steps 

6)  The Thief of Time

7)  Crocodile on the Sandbank

8)  One Corpse Too Many

9)   Along Came a Spider

10)  Think Twice (Lisa Scottoline)

I hope you enjoyed this mystery game.  Please leave a comment and let me know if this is something you would like to continue seeing.

I am sharing this short video with you - I think it is very funny (even though it is a commercial).  Please ignore the product and enjoy the cat.

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Thursday, March 24, 2011

Review - Beaglemania

For all you animals lovers out there, here is a new series featuring a pet rescue.  No talking pets, no hearing the animal's thoughts, no super-animals, but plenty of lovable animals and a gutsy sleuth who has a heart for the four-legged-furry beings among us.

Author:  Linda O. Johnston

Copyright: March 2011 (Berkley) 298 pgs

Series: 1st in Pet Rescue Mysteries

Sensuality: Mild romance

Mystery Sub-genre: Cozy

Main Character:  Lauren Vancover, head of HotRescues, a privately funded no-kill animal shelter

Setting: Modern day, north of Los Angeles

Obtained Through: Publisher for an honest review

The trouble starts when Lauren helps rescue four beagle puppies that were dumped down a drainpipe at a nasty puppy mill. One of the mill's employees, Efran has a history of dog abuse and as a condition of his plea agreement for a recent animal cruelty charge he volunteered at HotRescues to learn to treat animals ethically. Needless to say, Lauren is upset to see Efran was part of the abusive puppy mill.  When Lauren arranges for him to be banned from working at HotRescues, Efran makes vicious threats to Lauren, the whole staff and the animals at the rescue.  

But when Efran is found stabbed to death at HotRescues, Lauren is quickly painted as the killer, and somebody who knows how to access the shelter undetected by the security cameras is setting her up as the fall guy the more time goes by.  Lauren starts to investigate on her own and nobody is above suspicion, not even the attractive Capt. Matt Kingston of Animal Services who appears to be interested in her.

Apparently this new series has a tie-in to the Pet Sitter Mystery series which featured Kendra Ballantine, who is the millionaire who funds HotRescues' girlfriend.  Kendra gets a cameo appearance in this new series.

As cozy mysteries go this is a solid entry.  Lauren is a mother with children in college who, after being widowed had a bad second marriage and is very gun-shy.  She comes across as a pretty level-headed if stuborn woman who doesn't take no for an answer easily.  She has a hard time relying on others which is put to the test as she has an increasingly hard time separating her true friends from who is setting her up.

 The other characters include Captain Matt Kingston of Animal Services who makes a good potential love interest and someone who may be a good match for Lauren.  There is the private owner of HotRescues Dante DeFrancis who made his millions with a chain of pet stores - definite potential for this character in future books.  The right-hand person at the rescue, Nina who is fresh out of an abusive marriage - I could see her character taking off.  Then there is Lauren's best friend Carlie, a veterinarian and host of a television Pet Health show.

There is plenty of information about pet rescues scattered throughout the story.  I felt it was presented as part of Lauren's job and passion as opposed to being overwhelming or tedious.  I certainly have a new appreciation for the hard work of running a pet rescue after this book.  You will definitely understand a pet lover's feelings about puppy mills or dog fight participants upon reading this book.

There are several suspects to wade through and Lauren handles investigating in a logical manner, for the most part.  There were two places when I thought it just didn't make sense to expect gaining an upper hand on the killer in that manner.  The plot was well laid out and the killer was somebody that early on I thought of but discounted later so I felt it gave me a good red herring there.  The climax was good and the wrap up was uplifting and even heartwarming.

All-in-all, an exciting new cozy series that has a solid debut and lots of potential for future entries.

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Monday, March 21, 2011

International Spy Museum in Washington DC

I realized I had never posted about my visit to the International Spy Museum and felt I should correct that error right away. I visited both the Spy Museum and the Crime and Punishment Museum the same day. It was a bit much, but if I had to compare, I think I enjoyed the spy museum more.

The International Spy Museum opened in Washington, DC on July 19, 2002. It is the only public museum in the United States solely dedicated to espionage and the only one in the world to provide a global perspective on an all-but-invisible profession that has shaped history and continues to have a significant impact on world events.

The Museum features the largest collection of international espionage artifacts ever placed on public display. Many of these objects are being seen by the public for the first time. These artifacts illuminate the work of famous spies and pivotal espionage actions as well as help bring to life the strategies and techniques of the men and women behind some of the most secretive espionage missions in world history.

Although there are a lot of items from the cold war era (like the mini-cameras used back then) there was still a lot of information applicable to today.  You get to test your powers of observation and listening with some of the interaction exercises.  I enjoyed crawling through and air duct and spying on those below - not as easy as on TV to move quietly in those things!  At the beginning you pick your secret identity and have a few moments to memorize your cover story.  Although this isn't a big deal when questioned it makes it more enjoyable for kids. 

The various facets of spy-craft are dissected and it becomes clear that being a spy was a difficult and stressful position to be in.  Actually the first half of the permanent exhibit is dedicated to spy-craft and the gadgetry involved.  It was fascinating to actually see items used by spies and the disguise techniques.  There were several  case studies of spies that have been caught - even U.S. spies.  Information about the FBI and counterintelligence too. 

There are several stations to keep the children interested so it is kid-friendly for a museum.  Even the history of spying (the second oldest profession) is made interesting, ninjas have taken on a whole new meaning for me.  Meet the "Sisterhood of Spies", a select few of the many women who were agents from the American Civil War into the 20th century. Information on Julia Child being a U.S. spy even.  This museum merges the sleek Hollywood set-design elements to highlight the artifacts and information to keep it from being just another museum to trudge through. It is also noisy, with spies telling their stories or news broadcasts on the speaker system non-stop.

It may seem silly, but one of my favorite information displays was on a decorated WWI war hero - a pigeon.  Cher Ami, was awarded the French "Croix de Guerre with Palm" for heroic service delivering twelve crucial messages. But it was his final mission that is amazing.  On October 1918, Cher Ami delivered a message in spite of being shot through the breast, blinded in one eye, covered in blood, with a leg hanging only by a tendon and having his wings shot through. The message, found in the capsule hanging from his shattered leg, saved around 200 US soldiers of the 77th Infantry Division's "Lost Battalion".  Cher Ami became the mascot of the Department of Service and was mounted by a taxidermist and donated to the Smithsonian where he is enshrined in the Smithsonian Institution, and is currently on display.

The gift shop is amazing in itself with a wide range of items from books, movies, apparel and the usual memorabilia.  I even got me some handcuff themed necklace and earrings - don't know if I will ever be brave enough to actually wear them!  The museum costs $18.00 for adults and $15.00 for children 5-11 years old.  I know that can be steep for a family.  I for one would love to go back and see it again - only I will give myself plenty of time to take it all in next time.

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Thursday, March 17, 2011

Review - Arsenic and Old Paint

I love art. I even dabble in watercolors and drawing. I discovered this series a few years ago and have enjoyed every book. But it was a long wait since the prior book (Brush with Death - 2007) and this one. Oh how I have missed the reformed art forger Annie Kincaid.

Author: Hailey Lind

Copyright: Sept 2010 (Perseverance Press) 272 pgs

Series: 4th in Art Lover's Mysteries

Sensuality: Adult references and situations

Mystery Sub-genre: Amateur Sleuth

Main Character:  Former art forger Annie Kincaid, now owns a decorative "faux" painting business

Setting: Modern day, San Francisco California

Obtained Through: Library

Annie is on a faux finish job at the exclusive (meaning wealthy men only) Fleming Mansion when she and her workers follow a scream to find a dead a tub...with a sword in his chest.  Is it just Annie's imagination or does the scene really look like a recreation of the famous  painting "The Death of Marat."  This reunited Annie with the local police detective Annette Crawford who knows Annie a little too well from the prior books.  Annie is convinced something shady is going on in the Fleming Mansion.

Annie had become business partners with a "former" art thief when the FBI Art Squad asked them to run an online art appraisal website in hopes of snagging some stolen art.  Through this Annie gets a job offer from an insurance adjuster asking for help in finding a supposedly stolen-but maybe insurance fraud surrounding a Gauguin painting.  Naturally the preconceived idea is that she maintains her connections to the art world's criminal element.  Then Annie's influential and attractive landlord Frank (a mutual attraction but seemingly oil-and-water relationship) asks for her help in finding a stolen life-size bronze statue of Hermes stolen from a lesser social club.  Just to make it interesting, the super hot "former" art thief Michael picks now to re-enter her life.

Annie is a fun and snarky sleuth who learned determination from a pit bull.  She ends up running down the three story lines and delivers some laughs too.  I will warn readers, her investigations take her into tunnels under San Francisco and even into a "Sex Club" running down clues and leads - there is never anything explicit though.  There are laughs even in the most unlikely scenes, so don't let this scare you away.  Her dilemma between wealthy Frank and unpredictable Michael comes across as plausible.  You end up cheering for Annie, the underdog who is remaking her life and doing her best to be on the lawful path and be respectable.

The surprise breakout stars of the book are a pair of homeless guys who try to help Annie with information on the stolen statue of Hermes and keep popping up in the book.  These guys were great and funny.  And a close second was the character of Wesley Fleming of the original Fleming Mansion.  He gets honorary membership to the club but is somewhat an outcast, probably because he is socially backwards and fascinated with bats.  He becomes part of Annie's merry band aiding her to solve these cases.

The multiple cases all have some relationship to one another and the plot is solid.  The mystery itself has a few twists and I didn't see the killer coming.  The tense confrontation with the killer is great and the short wrap answers the remaining questions and even a few surprises.  The ending seems to point to Annie being given a clear shot with one of her two beaus.  

It was a long wait for this fourth book, but well worth it.  I am already looking forward to the next book in the series.  If you have not yet tried this series, I certainly recommend it.

Here is a feline take on the classic painting Girl with a Pearl Earring - Vermeer goes furry as the artist says.

By ImmortalSilver

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Monday, March 14, 2011

Mystery Game - Guess the Series

We are going to do a little game and see how it goes.

The answers are not to be shared in comments are anything like that - too easy for late comers to just read the answers!

Check back in a few days and the answers will be posted.  You can share how well you did then!

The idea is that I provide the main character and you provide the book series.  All of these have been reviewed on the site as well. 

I think this may just be harder than it sounds - and no cheating by using google or yahoo to search.   Let's see how this works for us.

The answers are posted below.  How did you do?  Leave a comment and share how you did and if this was more difficult than you thought.

1)  Lady Georgiana Rannoch               
Series:  Her Royal Spyness

2)  Nikki Sands                                   
Series: Wine Lover's Mystery

3)  Diane Fallon                                  
Series:  Diane Fallon Forensic Investigations

4)  Sadie Novak                                 
Series: Ghost Dusters Mystery

5)  Clare Cosi                                    
Series: Coffee House Mystery

6)  Father John O'Malley                   
Series: Wind River Mystery

7)  Betsy Devonshire                         
Series: Needle Craft Mystery

8)  Natalie Barnes                             
Series: Gray Whale Inn Mystery

9)  Maggie O'Neill                            
Series: Bewitching Mystery

10) Brianna Winston-Beaufort          
Series: Beaufort and Company Mystery

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Thursday, March 10, 2011

Review - Town in a Lobster Stew

While many of us are still experiencing cold temperatures and even some winter storms - let's jump to spring time.  Join me in small town Maine for a murderous stew.

Author:  B.B. Haywood

Copyright: Feb 2011 (Signet) 358 pgs

Series: 2nd in Candy Holliday Mysteries

Sensuality: N/A

Mystery Sub-genre: Cozy

Main Character:  Candy Holliday, Blueberry farmer and writer of the Community Corner for the Cape Crier paper

Setting: Modern day, Cape Willington Maine

Obtained Through: Publisher for an honest review

Apparently the trend so far in this series is to center the mystery around a town event.  In this installment the town is excited about the approaching Lobster Stew Cook-off competition on Memorial Day weekend.  The person who wins the the Cook-off becomes local royalty.  Wilma Mae Wendell contacts Candy because somebody managed to enter her house and find a hidden drawer containing a ledger with a 13-time prize winning Lobster Stew recipe.  Wilma wants Candy to find that ledger with the recipe - which was given to her by the creator of the recipe - her dear friend and neighbor Mr. Sedley. 

What seems like a mild little problem becomes a murder investigation when Mr. Sedley's body is Wilma Mae's basement.  It appears he was killed in Wilma's house and dumped in the basement.  Now Candy is trying to figure out who would kill over a little recipe, no matter how good it is.

Candy Holliday has a lot of potential as a main character.  It seems as though Candy is a rough character still growing and becoming.  She moves through the book as a pleasant character but one that could be so much more.  I never got a sense for her emotions or passions.  Even when an issue is raised between Candy and her father around Candy being too busy and not relieving him with the blueberry farming duties that he can't keep up with - but it  was quickly dropped.  The opportunities to give Candy a bit more depth aren't explored.  The perfect example was in a surprising meeting with her arch-nemesis where Candy could have revealed more depth - but didn't.

The supporting cast is a bit stronger.  Candy's BFF, Maggie, is a fun character even though she has had her rough spots.  Maggie jumps in to care-take Wilma Mae and shows a touching and funny side.  Candy's dad has only a few scenes in the book but he and his buddies promise to be a continued hoot.  Candy's romantic interest, editor of the small local paper only has a few appearances so it was hard to get a proper feel for him.  What did come across is that there is no "magic" in their dating, even Maggie comments on it.  Candy's arch-nemesis was a good character and I would have liked her showing up past the middle.

The mystery itself had a few twists but I had figured out the killer fairly early.  The road to Candy discovering the killer was a systematic investigation and played out well.  But I do have to say that the ledger was stolen for more than just the recipe contained in it - but we never find out WHAT that was.  That is a large thread left loose.

The setting is used to advantage in this book.  Be prepared to want to spend your next vacation in Maine.  This book subtly envelops you with the beauty of the state.

There was a suspenseful confrontation with the killer, which I do so enjoy.  The wrap-up had some good information revealed.  But I wanted a follow-up from the meeting Candy had with her nemesis - but that never happened.  There was a set-up for elements of this story to come back in another book to bite Candy.  That closing set-up made me wonder if the ledger will be part of the continuation of this story in another installment and then we will find out what was in it.  So it was successful in making me want to read the next story to find out how that plays out.

I had not read the first book so I can't compare this second book to the previous.  This is a good cozy mystery with some missed opportunities to become a really good mystery.  We may see Candy develop depth as the series matures.

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Monday, March 7, 2011

Mystery & Crime Fiction Blog Carnival - March 2011

Happy Mardi Gras.  It is time for another highly anticipated Blog Carnival.    Below is the line-up.  Click on the title or author's name to go to that link in a new window.

Police Procedural / PI Book Review

KerrieS presents Bound by Vanda Symon.  #4 in a great New Zealand series

Booking Mama reviewed Messenger Of Truth by Jacqueline Winspear, another Maisie Dobbs mystery.

KerrieS reviewed a gritty Dying Gasp by Leighton Gage.  The third in the Inspector Mario Silva series set in Brazil. The themes are corruption in high places and child prostitution.

Amateur Sleuth / Cozy book Review

Booking Mama also reviewed Lucky Stiff by Deborah Coonts.

Mark presents Devil's Food Cake Murder by Joanne Fluke.  Here's my take on Devil's Food Cake Murder, the 14th Hannah Swensen Mystery.
Lori's Reading Corner reviewed Absolutely Positively by Heather Webber.   This series has the perfect mix of cozy mystery elements

The Mystery Gazette reviewed Haunt Me Still by Jennifer Lee Carrell

Thriller/Suspense Fiction Book Review

Booking Moma again with Hell's Corner by David Baldacci - his latest Camel Club adventure featuring Oliver Stone.

S. Krishna presents Learning to Swim by Sara J. Henry.

Straight from Hel reviewed Treacherous Tango by E. Ryan Hale.

Mystery Page Turners reviewed Gone by Jonathan Kellerman.  Kellerman has created a dynamic pair of detectives in psychologist Alex Delaware and homicide detective Milo Sturgis.

Author Interview

O.C. Heaton presents a self-interview on how to write.

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Thursday, March 3, 2011

Review - Curiosity Thrilled the Cat

The book we review this week has a library central to its story.  Thriller author Karin Slaughter is spearheading an effort to save libraries.  So this is a good time to share her work.  Did you know that 80% of children in rural areas use their local libraries as their only access to the internet and books. Staff is being laid off. Buildings are being closed. Libraries are built, books are purchased, but there's no funding to open or operate the facilities.

To help spread the word about the needs for community support for public libraries, Karin is championing, with a pilot event to benefit the DeKalb County (GA) Public Library system. This initial event serves as pilot program during which the steps of the process are documented in order to make it repeatable at other libraries with minimal amount of staff planning time and administrative investment.  Check out the Save The Libraries website and maybe your library can get involved. 

Author: Sofie Kelly

Copyright: Feb 2011 (Signet) 316 pgs

Series: 1st in Magical Cats Mysteries

Sensuality: N/A

Mystery Sub-genre: Cozy

Main Character: Kathleen Paulson, librarian

Setting: Modern day, Mayville Heights, Minnesota

Obtained Through: Publisher for an honest review

Kathleen needed to start her life over after her boyfriend took a two week trip and came back married. Kathleen leaves Boston for small town Mayville Heights to be a librarian and supervise a major renovation of the town's historic Carnegie Library. She finds the people of Mayville welcoming and she is shortly into the rhythm of the town. She is even adopted by two cats who train her well. The renovation is the one dark spot due to the contractor being difficult, hard to reach, condescending and way behind schedule.

The story begins with a very difficult customer. Guest conductor for the Wild Rose Summer Music Festival, Gregor Easton, is raising a ruckus because the internet isn't available with the renovation efforts. To make the situation worse, Kathleen's cat Owen appears on Mistro Easton's head. Kathleen offers to have breakfast delivered to him to smooth his ruffled feathers. In the morning Kathleen goes to the the theater to enlist the help of the local handy man since the contractor is useless. What she finds is Mistro Easton dead. The police find a note to Easton setting up a rendezvous at the library with Kathleen's name on it - combined with her arranging for breakfast and it appears she knew the victim very well. Maybe enough to kill him for something. The cats are determined to assist in digging up information. It also appears that dangerous "accidents" are happening to Kathleen. Could somebody be out to stop her from uncovering evidence?

Kathleen is a fresh character that is easy to like.  The descriptions of her magical cats are handled well. They are wonderful companions who you suspect may even understand her without being over-the-top (okay they are magical - but otherwise they aren't over-the-top).  The police are portrayed as thorough and competent while Kathleen is simply following her instincts and discovering tidbits which eventually all click together. The potential romantic interest is almost a guessed it - the police detective.

The plot is doled out and the solution is good.  Some good suspenseful moments during the confrontation which got my blood pumping.  The writing draws you in like a gentle caress.  This is a great cozy that will quickly have you anxiously waiting for the next release so you can spend more time with the people of Mayville Heights.  If you want something that will put a smile on your face, give a few laughs and feel like you just treated yourself to some comfort food, this book is for you.

This is bound to be a popular series with just the right mix of townspeople, interesting heroine and nice plotting.

Here is a nice piece on how special Carnegie Libraries are - featuring a Minnesota CL.

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