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Sunday, September 17, 2017

Review - Murder on the Rocks

This is a new-to-me series that I stumbled across.  I couldn't help but compare this  series to Brewing Up Trouble mystery series by Joyce Tremel (click here) which is set in Pittsburgh with a focus on craft beer brewing.  But there are plenty of differences to make them each unique even with a similar bar setting.  This neighborhood bar themed mystery is set in Milwaukee.  So join me for a peek at this unique series with book one.

Author: Allyson Abbott

Copyright: Aug 2013 (Kensington) 351 pgs

Series: 1st in Mack's Bar Mystery series

Sensuality: Mild

Mystery Sub-genre: Cozy

Main Characters: Mackenzie "Mack" Dalton, Milwaukee bar owner with neurological senses disorder

Setting: Modern day, Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Obtained Through: Personal purchase

Mack's Bar is one of those nice, friendly places where everybody knows your name. That's great when someone's buying you a round, but not so hot when you find yourself atop a list of murder suspects--with your fingerprints on the bloody knife!

Mackenzie "Mack" Dalton is a Milwaukee bar owner with a nose for trouble--literally. A neurological glitch has left her with extra perceptive senses. So when she stumbles upon a dead body in the alley behind the bar--the same spot where her own father was shot eight months earlier--she can tell right away there's something fishy in the air. The lead detective thinks there's a link between the two deaths, and he'll need Mack's help to sniff out the murderer amid the crowd of eccentric regulars. But when all the evidence points to her as the most likely culprit, it could be an early last call for Mack--and celebratory cocktails for a killer.  Includes drink recipes.

Mack's neurological mix up of her senses is unique for a main character and there is a lot of sorting through her situation.  Zachary Fairbanks, paramedic and casual boyfriend provides some complications.  Detective Duncan Albright is the romantic interest who goes undercover as part of the bar staff (with the assumption both the recent murder and Mach's father's murder eight months prior are connected) to determine the killer.  Full cast of bar regulars and employees, most all of which become suspects, are interesting and some are quirky.

Mack's historic bar is the location of mostly all the action.  The bar's connection with Capone was fascinating and I would have liked a bit more atmospheric description.  The plot was intertwined with Duncan's undercover work and growing closer to Mack.  I have to admit the pacing slowed slightly in a few places, but not for long.  The climax was nicely tense and nail biting, the way I like it. wrap-up sets up the continuing adventures of Mack smoothly.  

I liked the cop going undercover as a bar employee to investigate.  Mack didn't resonate strongly with me, nothing wrong with that though.  I got a little sidetracked by having to follow her different sensory condition, but I'm interested in following the series.  The climax was the strongest scene of the book, which was a great payoff.

Rating:  Good - A fun pleasant read with interesting characters.  Recommended for cozy lovers.

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Thursday, September 7, 2017

Review - Whispers of Warning

I reviewed the first novel in this new series, Whispers Beyond the Veil (click here) and was honored to have a guest post from the author (click here.)  Now we have the critical second book, which has a lot to live up to from the first.  Let's see how the series holds up with the newest addition.

Author: Jessica Estevao

Copyright: Sept 2017 (Berkley) 331 pgs

Series: 2nd in Change of Fortune Mystery series

Sensuality: Mild

Mystery Sub-genre: Historical Cozy

Main Characters: Ruby Proulx, a psychic with a "questionable" past

Setting: 1898, Old Orchard-Maine

Obtained Through: Publisher for honest review

From the cover: "Free from the clutches of her con artist father, Ruby Proulx is starting to settle in at the Belden, her aunt Honoria’s seaside hotel. She loves finally being rooted in one place and also feels a sense of purpose as she helps Honoria keep her business afloat by acting as a psychic medium for the hotel’s metaphysically inclined guests.

When one of the guests, renowned Spiritualist and outspoken suffragist Sophronia Foster Eldridge, checks into the hotel for a monthlong stay, Ruby finds her sense of purpose expands outside the confines of home and family. Sophronia takes Ruby under her wing and mentors her in the mediumistic abilities, encouraging her to fight for women’s rights. 

But not everyone is as happy with Sophronia’s appearance in Old Orchard. When a dangerous act of sabotage is carried out and a body is found floating in the pool of a local bathhouse, Ruby takes it upon herself to find answers— and in the process learns that her new friend has been hiding some deadly secrets of her own."

Ruby has a good heart in spite of her con-artist rearing from her no-good father. She is afraid people will see through the attempts to be good and see the con she used to be.  She doesn't even trust her own psychic abilities.  Aunt Honoria is the family she always wanted, and will do anything for her.  Officer Warren Yancy provides the potential love interest, he struggles with his growing feelings for her.  Lucinda (Lucy) is Officer Yancy's sister who has become Ruby's fast friend and is a great side kick.  

The true seaside town of Old Orchard is a perfect setting along with the  Hotel Belden.  The murder doesn't happen right away, so there are events and conflicts happening leading up to the death. This doesn't slow the story down, but gives it more complexity.  The killer is a surprise I didn't anticipate!  The killer reveal had a few short moments of thrills that I loved, and answered all the questions.  The wrap up leaves a tantalizing tidbit for the next book. 

I love the "scandalous" bicycle outfits that Ruby and Lucy dare to wear.  I also appreciated the coverage of the ugly and even violent attitudes towards those seeking the vote - something we forget too easily.  All this was woven into the story without an agenda, but a tableaux of the era.  The mystery was solid, the historical setting is absorbing, and the characters each so realistic that the mix is truly an exciting escape.  The second book in the series maintains the high bar set by the debut book.  I have to say how I am loving the covers for this series, too.

Rating:  Near Perfect - Couldn't Put it down. Buy two copies, one for you and one for a friend. 

Here is a short video of historical photos involving the pier that is about to open during the book.  The pier and pavilion have had a hard time over the years as the video shows.  Tiny text at upper left.

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Thursday, August 31, 2017

Review - The Hanover Square Affair

I found a new historical Amateur Sleuth series set in Regency era.  This is my first novel from award-winning author Ashley Gardner also writes as New York Times bestselling author Jennifer Ashley and national bestselling author, Allyson James. She has written more than fifty novels and novellas in mystery, romance, historical fiction, and urban fantasy.  Here is my review of the first book in the series that consists of twelve novels so far, with a thirteenth slated for 2018 release.

Author: Ashley Gardner

Copyright: June 2017 (Create Space) 272 pgs

Series: 1st in Captain Gabriel Lacey Regency Mystery series

Sensuality: Medium

Mystery Sub-genre: Historical Amateur Sleuth

Main Characters: Cavalry Captain Gabriel Lacey, recently returned from Napoleonic wars injured and fighting depression and PTSD

Setting: Regency London

Obtained Through: Personal Purchase

From the cover: "Cavalry captain Gabriel Lacey returns to Regency London from the Napoleonic wars, burned out, fighting melancholia, his career ended. His interest is piqued when he learns of a missing girl, possibly kidnapped by a prominent member of Parliament. Lacey's search for the girl leads to the discovery of murder, corruption, and dealings with a leader of the underworld. Lacey faces his own disorientation upon transitioning from a soldier's life to the civilian world, redefining his role with his former commanding officer, and making new friends--from the top of society to the street girls of Covent Garden."

Captain Lacey is your anti-hero who needs a cause to fight for as much as the missing girls need somebody to be on the case to find them.  Gabriel Lacey is dark with his inner demons to fight, but he is also a good man who is struggling.  He is no saint, but tries to live honorably.  He is somewhat a Don Quixote type which will make for a good series.  The primary other significant character is Lucius Grenville who is in the upper crust of society and has befriended Captain Lacey. A shady character that will likely be in subsequent novels of the series is James Denis, smuggler, influential, and cut-throat.  Louisa Brandon, the wife of his former best friend, is his un-requited love and the person who can soften his rough edges.

Regency era England with its splendor and squalor, gentility and gutter-rats, populate the story in a cohesive panarama.  The plot is dark and perilous witout turning detailed on the horrific.  Just enough to understand the peril at stake.  There are times that the pacing slows where we learn more about Captain Lacey's past, but they are well worth the time.  

In this debut novel of the series, there is no tense confrontation with the killer.  The culprit is confronted and answers provided, but it isn't a daring scene with peril.  Although I love the really tense and suspenseful killer reveals, the way this was handled added a level of seriousness to the ending.  There are other moments in the story that provide good excitement though.

I like Captain Lacey and his character has potential and the writer's style is easy to follow.  I wasn't enamored with the book, but not turned off by it either.  I would like a bit more description for mood and setting, a few moments of joy for Captain Lacey so it doesn't feel so heavy.  And of course, I love a harrowing killer confrontation.  That said, there aren't as many Regency mysteries and I will probably read the next in the series.

Rating: Good - A solid read with minor flaws, good but not stellar. Maybe read an excerpt before buying. 

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Monday, August 28, 2017

Guest Author Post - Betty Hechtman

Ms. Betty Hechtman, author of the national best selling Crochet Mystery series and the Yarn Retreat Mystery series, is joining us today.  I reviewed her new release, A Tangled Yarn (click here.)  Please welcome Ms. Hechtman to our blog.

The Real Identity

Are any of my characters based on real people? Nope, they are all completely fictitious, but the animals are all real. I thought it was time to reveal one of their real identities.

When I was thinking of a animal companion for Casey Feldstein in the Yarn Retreat Series, I immediately thought of a cat that lived down the street. He might have lived there, but he spent a lot of time in our yard and on our front porch and he even walked inside once when the door was open. His name was Julius and he shared his household with a corgi. His owner, a not so friendly guy, would walk the lumbering short legged corgi, and Julius would tag along on his own.

He had slightly long black fur and an attitude. I know what you’re saying - all cats have attitude.  Julius had even more. It was the way he made eye contact while holding his ground. He never walked fast, but sauntered as if he owned the world. I talk about him in the past tense because Julius and his family moved away a number of years ago. Now we just have Fake Julius. He or she, I’m not sure, though I’m betting on a he, lives nearby and considers our yard part of his domain. He has the same longish black fur and arresting yellow eyes. I would say that Julius just moved in with someone else when his family left, but I saw both black cat in our yard at once.  And Julius wore a name tag, Fake Julius wears none.

The Julius in my book is a little different. He has the same attitude, but he starts out as a stray.  Although I don’t go into it in the book, I think of him having been abandoned and living off the snacks he’s being fed by the kitchen help at the hotel and conference center that hosts the yarn retreats Casey puts on. It’s called Vista Del Mar and is on the edge of the Monterey Peninsula.  The grounds are filled with Monterey Pines and Monterey Cypress and ground cover that grows on its own. In other words, it is kind of wild and untamed. The buildings are dark and moody and there is lots of fog.

The manager of Vista Del Mar is not happy with Julius’s presence on the grounds and uses his golf cart to try to chase him away. The fictitious Julius acts very much like the real cat. He gets out of the way of golf cart, but then stands his ground and stares at the manager with his arresting yellow eyes.

Casey has never had a pet and has no idea how it works with cats. She doesn’t know you don’t pick them, they pick you. However, she finds out when Julius decides she’s the human for him and follows her home.

A TANGLED YARN, is the fifth book in the series and by now Julius has done a good job of training Casey on how to be his human. He has her stocking his favorite food, she calls stink fish for the obvious reason, and has her feeding him it on his command. Much as she’d like to keep him safe as an indoor cat, he has to have his freedom. However, when he gets accused of making a mess of her retreaters’ yarn, he gets put under house arrest. Poor Julius doesn’t even get his day in court.

Though she started out uncertain about their parnteship, Julius has etched a space in Casey’s heart and she knows that whatever happens and wherever she goes, Julius will be coming along. 

Whenever I see Fake Julius, I wonder if he has any idea of the job he’s inherited as my inspiration and the adventures I’ve made up for him.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ 

Betty Hechtman grew up in Chicago and has a degree in Fine Arts. She has been into mystery and  handicrafts since she was a kid. Being able to mix her two loves in the national best selling Crochet Mystery series and the Yarn Retreat Mystery series is like a dream come true. She has many eclectic interests and has taken classes in everything from improv comedy to magic.

She has written newspaper and magazine pieces, short stories and screenplays, along with a children’s mystery, STOLEN TREASURE which also includes the 13 year-old- babysitters favorite recipes.

The current release in the Yarn Retreat series is A TANGLED YARN and HOOKING FOR TROUBLE is the latest in the Crochet series.  She lives in Southern California with her family and a lot of yarn. Over the years she has had thirteen animal companions, a number of whom have shown up at her front door, but is now down to one very affectionate cat. The welcome mat is always out for any abandoned pets looking for a home.

For more information 
Facebook: Betty Hechtman author 
~ ~ ~ ~ ~

THANK You Ms. Hechtman for your visit.  I have two brother black cats now that I rescued from a shelter/rescue.  I love Julius in the book and this was fun to learn more about how his character was inspired.

 ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Speaking of cats...
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Click here to buy

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Sunday, August 27, 2017

Review - A Tangled Yarn

Let's take a little trip to California's Monterey Peninsula for this next mystery review.  On her website, Ms. Hechtman reveals that Asilomar is the inspiration for the setting.  This is my first book in the Yarn Retreat mysteries and I was able jump in just fine without reading the prior four in the series.  

Author: Betty Hechtman

Copyright: August 2017 (Berkley) 300 pgs

Series: 5th in Yarn Retreat Mystery series

Sensuality: Mild

Mystery Sub-genre: Cozy

Main Characters: Casey Feldstein, dessert chef and new owner of Yarn2Go, a yarn retreat business

Setting: Modern day, Cadbury - Monterey Peninsula California

Obtained Through: Publisher for honest review

From the cover: "Casey Feldstein has her hands full with preparations at the Vista Del Mar hotel on the scenic Monterey Peninsula as another yarn retreat begins. The retreaters will be thrown for a loop this time, learning the trendy art of arm knitting and finger crocheting.

But not everyone is enthusiastic about trying something new, and Casey is forced to come up with an alternative craft for her less adventurous pupils. Things go from worst to worsted when a travel writer from a neighboring retreat group is found dead in his room among a sea of feathers. When one of the owners of Vista Del Mar pleads for help, Casey gets hooked into the case and must unravel a delicate skein of secrets to catch a killer."

Casey Feldstein has her hands full between Kevin St. John being difficult about the yarn retreat's future at Vista Del Mar, her ex-husband, a few particularly fault-finding retreat attendees, and the murder of the travel writer who was presenting at the writer's retreat occurring concurrently.  Dane is the junior police officer romantic interest.  Sammy is her ex-husband who  likes to say how Casey is "the only one who gets him."  He even asks Casey or a big favor, which was rather interesting.  Wanda and Crystal are the yarn workshop leads who have very different ideas about teaching yarn crafts.  Madeleine is the owner of Vista Del Mar hotel and a friend of Casey's - but she seems to have something to hide.  Kevin St. John is the hotel manager and doesn't like Casey or yarn in general, thus he booked the writer's retreat the same weekend.    Julius the black cat is just one cool cat.

Cadbury, especially the lighthouse, and Vista Del Mar are great settings for the murder.  Who killed the rough travel writer who managed to make even retreat attendees mad?  Seems he had other facets to his life that may catch up to him too.  The killer reveal was good and a surprise.  

I liked Casey and Julius right away.  I enjoyed Madeleine's new found zest for life, that was a great touch.  The yarn retreat is an interesting theme that allows for a new cast along with recurring characters.

Rating:  Good - A fun and enjoyable light read, put this author on your watch list.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ 
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