Tuesday, April 6, 2021

 

Whitney Whitaker and her cousin Buck are in the business of flipping properties.  They have so far not done any major projects and their budget is somewhat modest.  That doesn't stop them from bidding on the derelict Music City Motor Court motel in Murder with a View. Because the site offers wonderful views of the downtown Nashville skyline, Whitney doesn't think there will be any problems in finding buyers for the planned condos.  After a bit of subterfuge, she manages to outbid her nemesis, Thad Gentry, and she and Buck immediately start the redevelopment of the site.

The first issue is . . . someone is occupying one of the empty rooms.  The non-paying guest turns out to be Jimmy, a vet who travels around the country on his motorcycle as the mood takes him.  At first Whitney wants to order him to leave, but then she decides that a willing, cheap worker might come in handy during the refurb.  The next problem is when another room is found to be occupied, but this guest has "checked out" of life.  Things get even worse when it turns out that the dead body belongs to none other then rising country music star Beckett Morgan, singer of the popular hit Party in the Pasture.

The motel becomes the site of crying fans and candle-carrying vigils as soon as word of the death gets out. Even with the unexpected increase in traffic, Whitney and Buck are able to continue the renovations.  Whitney does take time off now and then to help her boyfriend, homicide investigator Collin Flynn, question witnesses and track down leads.  She is also a cat-mom to Sawdust, who helps out in all sorts of ways, both with her job and in keeping Whitney safe.

Chapters alternate from Whitney and Sawdust's point of view (yes, we get to hear what the cat is thinking!).  The story is somewhat slow-paced, and the suspects and their possible involvements in the crime are repeated quite often so the reader doesn't lose track of anyone.  As a cat lover myself, I appreciated that Sawdust (and his small feline sidekick, Cleo) were such a prominent part of the story.  I can't recommend taking a cat along to a construction site, though . . .  The story was enjoyable and I enjoyed the vivid Nashville settings.

Disclaimer:  I received a copy of Murder With a View from NetGalley in exchange for this review


Thursday, April 1, 2021

 

Who doesn't love a candy shop?  Not only can you find your personal favorites, but there's also the tantalizing possibility of discovering something new and delicious.  That is if the shop is open and the stock is fresh.  Unfortunately, Rosie Hopkins didn't find that when she left London for the country town of Lipton to help out in her great aunt Lilian's shop.  

Rosie enjoyed her job as auxiliary nurse, even though she didn't have a permanent position and with her lack of full nursing qualifications, she was frequently given the most unpleasant jobs around the hospital.  Her relationship with her boyfriend of seven years, Gerard was . . . fine, no really!  Even though he showed no inclination toward proposing and lately seemed to have gotten a bit too comfortable.  

When Rosie's mother calls from Australia and guilt-trips her into helping out Lilian, Rosie hopes that a little distance from Gerard might make him realize how much he misses her.  So Rosie hops on a bus and heads north to the countryside to help out.  Lilian, at 87, is experiencing some health issues, but Rosie and there rest of the family had no idea that she had pretty much abandoned running the family candy shop.  When Rosie arrives, it is dusty and most of the remaining wares are well past their sell-by dates.

As Rosie takes charge of Lilian's life and business, she begins to make friends in town and catches the eye of several interesting men.  Interspersed with Rosie's adventures are flashbacks of Lilian's life, explaining why she never married or left the village.  There are also plenty of comments on particular sweets as well as candy in general.  Several recipes are included so that if the lure of the sweet treats gets to be too much, you can whip some up for yourself.

I was enjoying the book and all the talk of sweets until near the end when it suddenly took a turn into teenaged romance territory.  Rosie was having her flirtations and re-examining her relationship with Gerard, but suddenly there was a lot of giggling, "you really like him, don't yous," and stern advice from matronly ladies thrown about.  When pretty much the whole village turns out to help Rosie get ready for "the ball," I realized the book was aiming for a different direction than I had thought.  It was a good enough, if predictable story, but some of the elements were just a bit too cringey for my tastes.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of Sweetshop of Dreams from NetGalley in exchange for this review

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

 

The "Satanic Panic" scare of the 1980s is the main focus of Whisper Down the Lane, where adults were all too eager to jump to conclusions and ruin lives.  

Young Sean lives with his single mother.  Overworked and without any family support, Sean's mother has to work long hours to support them, leaving Sean in the care of babysitters.  When a bully in his class begins to beat him up, Sean is too afraid of repercussions to tell his mother or any other adults the truth about where his injuries came from.  The adults quickly look for someone to blame and their gaze turns to the local elementary school, where any teacher or staff member who seems a little odd or overly friendly with the children immediately becomes the focus of suspicion.  

Decades later, Sean is now known as Richard and is married to a fellow teacher.  His past is a carefully guarded secret, even from his wife.  When sinister things begin happening at the school where he now works, Richard begins to fear that his past is catching up with him.

The author did a really good job of showing how the adults in these types of situations are ready to believe the most outlandish tales that children come up with instead of attempting to find out what is really happening.  The children, suddenly thrust into the spotlight and not willing to disappoint, do all they can to tell the adults what they want to hear.  The adult "experts" also coach and cajole the kids into agreeing to point the finger at totally innocent people.  While this book does refer to the "telephone game," where children whisper a message throughout the group, only for it to become terribly distorted by the end, the story also had a lot of similarities with the Salem Witch Trials.  

Disclaimer: I received a copy of Whisper Down the Lane from the publisher in exchange for this review

Saturday, February 27, 2021

 

While being 11 is trying at times for everyone, Norman Foreman seems to have it harder than most.  Growing up in a single-parent household in the far southwest of England, he's never known his father.  A quiet and reserved boy, he also unfortunately suffers from a severe case of psoriasis which gets worse in times of stress (and also isn't helped by his love of cheesy toast).  The only bright spot in his life is his best friend Jax.  Jax is Norman's complete opposite:  loud, attention-seeking, and confident.  The two boys are united by their love of comedy and they make the perfect duo:  the natural clown and the straight man.   They set out a 5 year plan to perform a comedy routine at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival by the time they are 15.  While they have yet to actually perform in front of an audience, they spend all their time writing jokes, studying famous comedians, and planning their future comedy careers.  This all comes to an abrupt and shocking end when Jax suddenly dies.  

Norman, naturally, is completely devastated by the death of his close and really only friend.  His mother, Sadie, is at a loss as to how to comfort him.  Sadie has been somewhat adrift in life since becoming an orphan at the age of 19.  With no family, she set out on a reckless and self-destructive path that led her to having a son (with no idea who his father could be), and also dropping out of college with no qualifications.  She's worked for the past 6 years at a car lot, taking calls and commiserating with her co-worker Leonard about their boorish boss, Dennis.  Leonard is over 80 and responds to Dennis's inappropriate and demeaning insults with quiet acts of rebellion that Sadie sees and appreciates.

With the death of his best friend, Norman's 5 Year Plan can no longer be completed.  Sadie notices that he has amended the poster in his bed with a new plan, which includes finding his father and performing as a solo act at the Fringe Festival.  Sadie, feeling helpless in the face of her son's grief, decides to do what she can to help him fulfil his new plan.  She even confides in octogenarian Leonard, and he enthusiastically decides to become her helper.  So the three set out on a road trip to find the four possible candidates for Norman's father while at the same time getting him some "open mike" experience on their way to Edinburgh.  Because by the time they get there word will have spread about Little Big Man (Norman's comedy persona) and it will be easy to get a slot to perform at the festival . . . won't it?

Norman is a very likeable and eager-to-please boy who is also sensitive to the feelings of others.  His mother, Sadie, is somewhat scattered and disorganized, so it's lucky that the elderly, but encouraging Leonard agrees to go along on the trip and arrange the details.  I enjoyed the story, but it seemed to lose steam somewhat about 2/3 of the way through when Norman unexpectedly embarks on a caper with a new character.  I thought that part of the story deviated from the previous action and dragged on a bit too long.  Still, it was nice to follow Norman's adventures and to see him overcome the loss of his friend and become a more confident individual.

Disclaimer:  I received a copy of The Funny Thing about Norman Foreman from NetGalley in exchange for this review

Sunday, February 21, 2021

 

Three generations of the Gogarty family of Dun Laoghaire, Ireland go through all manner of upheavals in Good Eggs.  Millie Gogarty, the matriarch of the family, has been widowed for a long time.  Boredom and some unknown drive causes her to indulge in the occasional minor bout of shoplifting.  Unfortunately, this has not gone unnoticed in the small family-owned shop that is her usual target, so when her latest excursion results in a call to the police, her only child, Kevin, is called to collect her from the police station.  Kevin has recently turned 50 and experienced another personal setback:  he's lost his longtime job at a magazine that focused on celebrity gossip.  Now he has to compete with younger, tech-savvy applicants for positions covering celebrities he's never heard of.  His wife Grace has a high-paying job that requires her to work long hours away from the family.   Three of Kevin's four children are still at home, but teenaged twins Nuala and Aideen seem to always be at each other's throats.  Sixteen year old Aideen, in particular, is moody and uncooperative.  Kevin is left to try to keep his mother out of jail, find a new job, and keep Aideen from getting into trouble herself.

Kevin tells his mother that the police have agreed not to charge her with any crimes, as long as she agrees to have a home health aide check up on her a few hours each day.  Millie is appalled, but soon begins to appreciate the cheerful, take-charge young American woman Sylvia, who is hired to look after her (and report any misdeed to Kevin).  Is Sylvia too good to be true?

Aideen, much to her horror, is soon packed off to a boarding school across town in order to separate her from her sister and also give her a chance to get her grades up during her last few years of school.  While Aideen didn't really have friends in her old school, physical proximity soon means she has a new friend in the rebellious and angry Brigid.  If Aideen couldn't stay out of trouble on her own, how much hope is there once she has a willing accomplice?

Aideen and Millie have a bond based on their shared feelings of anger at being threated with being sent away.  Kevin continually suggests to Millie that she might be better off in a nursing home where she can be looked after, but of course she wants no part of that.  Aideen is sent to the boarding school against her will, so she can fully understand her grandmother's concerns. 

As more and more problems build for the Gogarty family, can they all navigate their current problems and the new ones that are constantly cropping up?  The book was very entertaining and I really enjoyed seeing what was going to happen next.  Millie, especially, is a character and her constant escapades would make for an interesting series!

Disclaimer:  I received a copy of Good Eggs from NetGalley in exchange for this review 

Monday, February 1, 2021

 

When teacher Margery Benson intercepts a particularly cruel drawing of herself circulating among her students, something inside her snaps.  The Miss Benson of Miss Benson's Beetle suddenly decides to give up her unrewarding career in education in order to fulfil a lifelong dream:  traveling to New Caledonia to discover proof of the golden beetle that has so far evaded capture.  As a 40-something spinster in post-WWII London, she knows she will need an assistant to help her on the expedition to the other side of the world.  She advertises the position and is somewhat dismayed to only receive three applicants: a someone peculiar former POW named Mundic, a flighty young woman named Miss Pretty, and (luckily) a perfectly competent woman named Miss Hamilton who is herself a retired teacher.  Just as everything is being arranged for the trip, Miss Hamilton drops out and Margery is forced to go with her second (and really only) choice, Enid Pretty.

Enid seems entirely unsuited to trekking in mountainous terrain in search of the elusive beetle.  She has died blonde hair, high heels, a tiger-print bikini, and does not stop talking except for brief periods when she is asleep.  Additionally, she brought along a great deal of luggage, including a red case that she never lets out of her sight.

On the ship during the first part of their voyage, it soon becomes apparent that the person who didn't get the assistant job is not going to take being passed over lightly.  Mundic stows away on the ship and keeps track of Margery's movements in a notebook.  At times he becomes confused as to where he is and if he's still being held prisoner, but for the most part his stalking of Margery remains his focus.

Once they make it to New Caledonia, Margery discovers that the majority of her beetle collecting and observation equipment has failed to arrive.  With limited supplies, she and Enid must rely on unorthodox methods to try to find the beetle before their allotted two months of searching is up.  Through rough terrain, dangerous weather and assorted disasters, Margery and Enid form an unlikely bond where secrets are revealed and a deep friendship takes hold.

I really enjoyed the story of Margery's unlikely search for the beetle that she'd only heard vague references to throughout her life.  The unusual cast of characters constantly threw up surprises and showed an unusual amount of resilience.  A mystery involving Enid also makes the story quite thrilling as we root for her while also fearing what she has in her red case!

Disclaimer:  I received a copy of Miss Benson's Beetle from NetGalley in exchange for this review

Friday, January 22, 2021

 

I listen to a lot of true crime podcasts, and I was excited to read the book If I Disappear due to its story involving a true-crime podcaster.  Obsessive fan Sera Fleece becomes concerned when the host of the podcast Murder, She Spoke suddenly stops putting out her very regular episodes.  As the majority of episodes of the podcast had dealt with missing women, Sera immediately becomes convinced that Rachel, the podcaster, has been murdered (or somehow the victim of foul play).  Using clues from the various episodes, Sera decides to travel to Rachel's home and see if she can get to the bottom of the disappearance.

Sera is a very hard character to like or even sympathize with.  She mentions over and over how she was "born to disappear" and has just never felt at home in the world.  She married her ex-husband because he seemed like some she could tolerate and describes feeling detached at her wedding. She couldn't hold a job and wasn't close to her parents.  Now in her 30s, she has been sitting at home doing nothing for the past year other than listening to Rachel's podcast over and over.  

Rachel began her podcast with a story that was local to her:  the disappearance of a girl from her high school when she was also a student there.  Rachel has talked about her life a great deal on the podcast:  that her parents run Fountain Creek Guest Ranch in Happy Camp, California; that she doesn't get along with her parents; that she lives in a yellow house on the property.  

Sera shows up in town asking for directions to the ranch and is met with stares and hostility from the local townspeople.  When she finally finds it, the ranch appears to be mostly run-down and overgrown with blackberry brambles.  Rachel's mother, Addy, quickly agrees to give Sera a job at the ranch cleaning and helping with the horses.  The other people who live at the ranch are Rachel's father Emmett and a hired man named Jed.

Soon, Sera begins, not very subtly to ask about Rachel and her disappearance.  Maddeningly for her, no one seems concerned or upset that Rachel is gone.  Many people tell her Rachel was strange, didn't get along with anyone, and had a habit of disappearing for long periods of time only to return with outlandish tales of what had happened to her. Only her mother Addy has a different story: that Rachel has been murdered by "gangs" from town.  Even if her mother believes that, Sera finds it odd that no police investigation has been done.

The story meanders along with Sera confronting everyone at the ranch and in town with her suspicious about Rachel's disappearance.  She keeps trying to find a bond between her "disappearance" from her own life and Rachel's absence.  The book was a little confusing because while real-life true-crime cases were mentioned, there were also many fictional ones that made up some of the cases Rachel covered on her show.  The only thing I can say I really enjoyed about the book was the fact that several times I thought I had elements of the story figured out, but none of what I was expecting happened. Still, the ending felt somewhat rushed and illogical, so I wasn't entirely left feeling as if the story delivered on a satisfying resolution.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of If I Disappear from NetGalley in exchange for this review

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

 

Kara Sullivan is a NYC-based author of romance novels who is not very successful in the romance department herself in Talk Bookish to Me.  Her friend Crissy is getting married, and as maid of honor Kara is doing her best to make the wedding day as smooth as possible for her friend.  At a pre-wedding party for the happy couple, Kara is shocked to find out that one of the groom's best friends, in from North Carolina for the wedding, is her old college sweetheart, Ryan.  

Even though it's been 10 years, Kara still has unfinished business with Ryan.  He graduated before she did, and while they tried a long-distance relationship, she could never believe that he wasn't seeing other girls.  After going out with Ryan for drinks, Kara finds that her writer's block has mysteriously disappeared.  She's able to finally make progress on the novel that is due to the publisher in only a few days.  Since Ryan seems to be the key to finishing the book, there's only one thing to do: spend as much time as possible with him while trying to maintain her aloof demeanor (guess how long that lasts?).  

As Kara works on her latest novel, we get chapters of that book showing the progress she's making.  Helpfully, Kara explains the romance genre to Ryan in great detail, which of course he's only too eager to absorb.  She details the various types of romance novels (Kara's own specialty is 19th century British historical novels), as well as the tropes that appear in all romance novels.  

While there was some funny banter in the book between Kara, Ryan, and her friends, the action moved along at a glacial pace.  The same things were gone over and over (the misunderstandings that led to the initial breakup, parental problems, etc.) without much progress being made.  I also didn't understand the romance-writer tutorial that was sort of awkwardly thrown in.  Still, Kara and Ryan's relationship did employ several of the tropes she mentioned, so at least this book followed the guidelines!

Disclaimer:  I received a copy of Talk Bookish to Me from NetGalley in exchange for this review

Sunday, January 17, 2021

 

A Beautiful Blue Death turns out to be nothing of the sort.  Lovely housemaid Prudence Smith has been found murdered with the rare poison bella indigo.  To confuse matters further, a small bottle of arsenic is left on the bedside table, even though this is not what killed her.  Could it be a strange case of suicide? These are all matters that require the investigative skills of Charles Lenox, second son (therefore untitled) but still wealthy enough to pursue his interests and hobbies without having to worry about making a living.  Charles is asked to investigate the death by his childhood friend and current neighbor the widow Lady Jane Grey.  Prudence has only left Lady Jane's house to take up another job in a house where her fiancĂ© is also employed.  So, if Prudence's death is indeed a murder, how did she manage to make a deadly enemy so soon in her new place of employment?

Charles has just successfully solved a forgery case that had baffled his nemesis, the Inspector Exeter of Scotland Yard.  Sadly, it doesn't take much to baffle Exeter, but he still insists that Charles should stay out of his cases and absolutely avoid meddling in any ongoing investigations.  Still, Charles agrees to help Lady Jane find out what happened to her former employee.

Plenty of suspects soon emerge at the new house where Prudence was working.  The man who owned the house, George Barnard, is the director of the Royal Mint.  He also happens to have many houseguests who all come under suspicion:  other mint/government employees, impoverished relatives, and of course, numerous servants.  

Charles is assisted in his inquiries by many eager would-be detectives: his elder brother Edmund, his butler Graham, Lady Jane's cousin Toto and her husband the alcoholic Dr. Thomas McConnell, Prudence's distraught fiancĂ©, and other assorted helpers from London's busy streets.  While trying to find a motive for the murder of the maid, Charles must traverse London in shoddy boots, pour over the latest travel/historical books and maps accommodating booksellers deliver to his home daily, and keep up his social schedule of visits, balls, and teas.  It's all very exhausting!

While the beginning of the book was a bit difficult to follow, due to the many characters that were introduced, I was eventually able to keep track of them and I began to enjoy trying to figure out who the guilty party was.  Although most of the characters go about their upper-class lives without much thought for "how the other half lives," there were occasional twinges of social conscience, such as when some shady characters lead the shadowing Graham into "the Rookery" slum and the conditions are very shocking for him.  

This book is the first in the Charles Lenox mystery series, which is now up to 12 books.  I look forward to returning to Victorian London to see what new adventures he finds!

Disclaimer:  I received a copy of A Beautiful Blue Death from NetGalley in exchange for this review

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

 

Fans of Liane Moriarty will rejoice at the events in the novel The Push. The story begins with a social event at an upscale home in suburban London where *someone* ends up dead.  Of course, it takes most of the book to even find out who the corpse is, never mind the revelations that could lead to murder for most of the guests at the party.

Six expecting couples meet for the first time when they all show up to a meeting of a support group for new parents.  The leader of the group, Nina, instructs the couples on such issues as baby first aid and what to expect during the birthing process.  The couples seem to be a complete cross-section of society.  There's Jax (whose story is most fully explored) and Aaron.  Jax is 38 and 14 years older than Aaron, who has grown up in foster care.  Cathy and Hazel are a lesbian couple who have used a sperm donor from abroad.  Monica and Ed are a 40-something wealthy couple.  Aisha and Rahul are an Asian couple who married after only knowing each other for a few months.  Anita and Jeremy are receiving updates from their surrogate mother who lives in the United States. Finally, there's Kelly, a nervous 22 year old who almost always attends the meetings alone since her boyfriend Ryan is unenthusiastic about becoming a parent.

While the stories of the various couples are told in flashbacks leading up to the day of the party, other chapters are interspersed into the story involving Alison, the police detective who is investigating the death at the party.  Alison is also currently undergoing fertility problems, so she is sympathetic with the parenting problems that the couples are exhibiting.  While the people she interviews about the death all insist the deadly fall was an accident, Alison can't help but feel that every single person she's spoken to is hiding something.  With her bosses eager to close the case as an accident and move on to other things, Alison must trust her instincts and experience in order to get to the truth.

The story moved along at a very fast pace, and with so many characters, there were a lot of secrets to unearth. Although the narration moved back and forth between characters and events before and after the death, it was easy to keep up with all the various characters.  There was a side plot with Jax having a big secret from her past that might be coming back to haunt her.  I really enjoyed the final chapter which tied up all the loose ends and explained where all the couples ended up.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of The Push from NetGalley in exchange for this review

Monday, December 7, 2020

 

Bree Cabbat is living a charmed life in Mother May I. After a less-than-prosperous childhood, she met and married a man who came from Atlanta's upper crust.  She is living a life of ease and comfort with her attorney husband Trey and their three children.  That is until Trey is away on a business trip and their infant son disappears.  Bree is watching her daughter during play practice, in the middle of a busy school auditorium, when she notices her son and his baby carrier are missing.  A piece of paper is left behind, instructing her to go home and await further instructions.

Of course, once she is contacted, she is instructed not to contact the police.  The kidnapper has some very specific and strange instructions that Bree must follow if she wants to see her son again.  Luckily, her husband's firm employs her old friend, former cop Marshall Chase, and he soon is brought in by Bree to help her get her son back. 

In investigating the kidnapping, Bree discovers just why her family has been targeted, and it causes her to question everything she knows and trusts about her family.  The action in the book is fast-paced and I was kept on the edge of my seat waiting for the next twist in the action.  There is also a lot of social commentary in the book, in terms of wealth, race and privilege and the different types of "justice" that is unconsciously afforded to different groups.  Overall, this was a very engaging and thrilling story!

Disclaimer:  I received an advanced reader's copy of Mother May I from the publisher in exchange for this review

Friday, November 6, 2020

 

Finlay Donovan is having a rough time.  Her husband Stephen has run off with their real estate agent, Theresa.  She has two children under the age of five and Stephen has fired Vero, the nanny.  She had already spent the advance she got from her agent for a book that was supposed to have been finished already -- but ideas are hard to come by amidst all the chaos of her daily life.  Unable to avoid the questions from her agent any longer, she agrees to meet up for coffee at a busy coffee shop (Finlay was banned from the shop after a previous incident, but she's going to wear her "author disguise" and hope for the best).  

Sitting with her agent at a table, Finlay begins to discuss possible plot points for her latest mystery novel.  Sylvia, her agent, can't understand why Finlay is having problems delivering the story, since it should follow a predictable pattern:  a woman in distress is rescued from a bad man (who is "taken care of").  When that happens (and the book is delivered) Finlay will get the rest of her money.  

Because they are having a discussion in a public place, Finlay doesn't realize someone at a neighboring table has been listening to the conversation.  The eavesdropper puts a note in Finlay's bag offering to hire her as a hitwoman to get rid of her troublesome husband in exchange for a large sum of money.  Finlay is equal parts horrified and intrigued.  Taking on this job would solve all of her money woes, but she won't really do it . . . will she?

This book is a humorous murder mystery with some slight romantic elements thrown in.  Finlay and her side-kick, super nanny Vero (who keeps the house spotless, entertains the kids, prepares gourmet meals, and studies for a degree, all without breaking a sweat) get into lots of scrapes and have to think of their feet to stay one step ahead of the police and the bad guys.  I sometimes had a little trouble following the logic when Finlay was discussing possible explanations for who was doing what in the story.  Overall, however, I enjoyed the resolution and cliffhanger that ended the book. I hope this will be the start of more adventures in the life of Finlay Donovan.

Disclaimer: I received an advanced reader's copy from NetGalley in exchange for this review



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I'm a librarian who is interested in all things British. I try to visit London as often as possible, and am always planning my next trip. I lived in Sweden for a few years with my Swedish husband, so the occasional Swedish reference may occur . . .

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