Rss

Archives for : Review

Book Review: Evil Under The Stars: The Agatha Christie Book Club 3 by C.A. Larmer

Who commits a murder in a crowd of a hundred people relaxing in a park, and how did the Agatha Christie Book Club miss the entire thing from only a few feet away? In the trendy Sydney suburb of Balmain, Kat Mumford, social media interior design star, has been murdered during the inaugural Cinema Under the Stars. Her distraught husband, Eliot, is clearly the prime suspect, but at the time of Kat’s strangulation, he is nowhere near her. In fact, no one was sitting near Kat, and the crowd seems to have been so absorbed by the movie, Agatha Christie’s Evil Under Sun, that no one saw a thing out of the ordinary. When Alicia Finlay and her book club realize the murder occurred right under their noses, there is no way they can just let the police handle it, and when Alicia’s boyfriend, Detective Inspector Liam Jackson acutally calls her for information, she and her club decide to do a little investigating of their own. Despite being told to butt out, Alicia, Lynette, Claire, Missy, and Perry go undercover to find the killer, but the twists in this case will lead them down a strange path to find a crafty killer. The club must sift through the suspects: a smarmy barman, a detestable reverend, a pregnant domestic abuse victim, a mystery mustached man, a dead junky, and a hipster hubby. With few clues but a number of deadends, the club will meet their most challenging mystery yet!

This mystery is one crazy ride. Anyone who loves a good whodunnit will adore this novel. Despite being the third novel in the series, it isn’t hard to learn the who’s who of the Agatha Christie Book Club. Claire, the vintage clothing shop owner; Missy, the pink-haired librarian; Perry, museum PR organizer; Lynette, self-trained food blogger; Alicia, online journalist; and even the reluctant Anders, the doctor who pronounces Kat dead on the scene, create a fantastic cast of characters who truly engage the readers from the first page. Like Christie’s beloved Miss Marple, the book club are only amatuer slueths, who must rely on a stealthy approach to crime solving, going undercover unbeknownst to DI Indira Singh, the no-nonsense, by-the-book detective in charge of the case, facing her wrath on more than one occasion. The ease with which the author introduces this cooky crew of curious minds will make it simple to jump in headfirst and enjoy this fast-paced roller coaster complete with plenty of red herrings and deadends, eventually leading to a crafty killer who manages a daring, deadly crime in the middle of hundreds of witnesses. 

An unexpected plus in the plot is the romance between Alicia and Liam. Having just previously broken up with fellow club member Anders (creating a tension among the book club), Alicia’s fledgling relationship with hunky Liam experiences some bumps when she interferes with his case, but the respect he has in her abilities–and that of club–adds depth to what appears to be solely a mystery novel on the surface. Liam seeks out Alicia’s help, valuing her abilities, and not attempting to control her. Being the less attractive of the Finlay sisters, Alicia is often “eclipsed” by the beautiful blonde Lynette, but she never feels anything less with Liam. He makes it “crystal clear which sister he prefer[s] in his orbit.” Liam even takes Alicia “on the beat” to track down would-be suspects and leads, partly because he needs her and partly because he knows she will love it. This symbiotic-style relationship is sweet in a mature way that romance readers will appreciate.

This review was written for Chanticleer Reviews.

Book Review: But Not Forever by Jan Von Schleh

Like most fifteen-year-olds, Sonnet McKay loves a good adventure, but when she, her siblings, and cousins discover a deserted Victorian mansion in the middle of the woods outside a deserted town near Seattle, they get much more than they bargained for. In an upstairs bedroom, Sonnet inadvertently steps inside a time travel portal and is whisked away to 1895. In her place stands Emma Sweetwine, an identical doppelganger for Sonnet. Emma’s family was a prominent family when Monte Cristo was a booming mine town, but life is not what it seems for the oldest of the Sweetwine children. With a mother who seems to despise her and a secret engagement, Emma’s life is oppressive and controlled–a sharp contrast to the spirited, independent Sonnet. With no idea how or why they were switched, Sonnet and Emma must quickly adjust to their new environments and rely only on their closest friends and family, but time is running out for the girls as both of their lives rush headlong in opposite directions. They must find a way back to their own times before their chance is gone forever. 

Family, both those of birth and those of choice, is a major theme of this novel. Sonnet has a close familial support system in her twin brother Evan, older sister Jules, cousin Niki, and best friend and cousin Lia. She has been surrounded by a loving family her entire life and spends part of each summer with her Aunt Kate, her father’s sister. Without doubt or hesitation, Evan, Jules, Niki, and Lia spring into action to both cover Sonnet’s absence and find the impossible path back to 1895. Rapp, a boy who has only known Sonnet for a day before her disappearance, is also a seamless part of the rescue brigade. The closeness of the teens is endearing and perhaps will inspire a nostalgia for that tight-knit feeling only present in adolescent friendship. This group instantly takes Emma into their embrace and makes her feel safe and loved, a first in her life. Though Sonnet has little help from Emma’s family, she quickly builds that friendship network she enjoys in her modern life. It is only with the support of Kerry, the sixteen-year-old Sweetwine family nanny; Maxwell, the teenage family driver; and Tor, Emma’s secret betrothed; that Sonnet will hatch an escape plan. Both groups vow to take care of each girl respectively and help them keep the faith to make all things possible. 

The difference between Sonnet and Emma will highlight the struggle and growth of women in the world. Sonnet isn’t burdened by the many stifling rules, both spoken and unspoken, that Emma must endure. Emma is forced to hide her true self, her true feelings, none so much as those she has for Tor. As an immigrant tasked with a life of menial labor, Tor should never be a part of Emma’s social circle much less her fiance. She has no close female friends and must remain docile and meek even when her mother demeans and abuses her. She is stifled by all who should love and support her. Sonnet, with her modern mind and outspoken nature, fights all of those restrictions and leaves Emma’s life better. Sonnet makes Emma stronger, and Emma teaches Sonnet how to appreciate the love in her life. In the very oppression, Sonnet finds the enjoyment of her freedom, and Emma’s liberation will create a connection to Sonnet that she can’t even imagine. Sonnet and Emma are not the only female characters who highlight the advancement of women in society. Kerry, the teenage nanny of the Sweetwine family, has an extraordinary story as well. After journeying alone from Ireland at the age of twelve, Kerry has created her own place. As a trusted servant, she cares for Emma’s younger brothers, Jacob and Miles, as well as Emma on occasion even though they are only one year apart in age. Kerry has the courage to secretly help Sonnet though, if discovered, she could lose her position. She gains Sonnet’s admiration and quickly reveals herself as a capable confidante in Sonnet’s escape back to 2015. Kerry also has the courage to dream of a better life and the ingenuity to make it happen. She, too, will later become a vital part of Sonnet’s future as well as an inspiration for her. 

This review was written for Chanticleer Reviews.

Book Review: Estelle: A Novel by Linda Stewart Henley

Twenty-two-year-old museum intern and unknown artist, Anne Gautier, has undertaken a major project, restoring “an elegant house on one of the finest streets in New Orleans.” The grand old Creole home has been in her family for “five generations,” and when her grandfather died, he left her the home on Esplanade Avenue “ ‘where all the best French Creole families’ ” once lived, with the stipulation that she must “restore the property, [or] ownership will revert to the city.” Even though the house is not in “a good part of town,”Anne is determined to celebrate the historical home not only because of her own family but also because the home was an integral part of New Orleans’s history during the visit of Edgar Degas in 1872. In fact, Degas’s notebook, found in Anne’s attic, gives Anne the money she needs to begin the restoration, but her plans go sideways when someone breaks in and vandalizes the home, leaving  behind a threatening note and a mystery to solve. On top of this shocking discovery, Anne is trying to reconcile her feelings about Stella, the half-sister Anne recently met, and whether she might have something to do with the vandalism since she was left out of their grandfather’s will. Anne tries to rely on her new boyfriend, Sam, for advice, but he has begun acting strangely, sneaking around behind her back and hedging her questions. With no one to lean on, a demanding job, and her own artistic-inspiration waning, Anne may never see her beautiful home and its important history revived. 

The duel settings of New Orleans in 1870 and 1970 gives this novel an interesting perspective. The juxtaposition of the issues of the Musson and De Gas families to the modern trials of Anne and her own family provides perspective as well as education for the reader. Though on the surface their struggles seem completely unalike, in reality, the parallel stories are paradoxically similar. Estelle De Gas, sister-in-law and cousin of Edgar Degas, is a strong woman trying desperately to hold together her marriage to a cheating husband and maintain the expected appearance of a well-to-do proud Creole family all the while knowing the family’s fortunes have fallen, and she will soon be blinded by a hereditary disease. Anne is struggling to find her place in the world and to hold together what family she has left while dealing with her own untrustworthy partner, Sam. Though Sam admonishes her for “refusing to look at the practical realities of life,” she seeks “to make things beautiful,” just as Estelle does in encouraging Degas to find his inspiration in Nouvelle-Orleans. Anne wants desperately “to work things out for herself and make her own way in the world,” and though Estelle isn’t an unmarried young woman, she understands the integral role she plays within her own sphere of familial influence, her “abiding concern for the welfare of those she loved despite her many challenges.” The more Anne learns about Estelle, the more she realizes she needs “to take a leaf from Estelle’s book and find her own source of strength.”

Art plays a huge role within this novel. Edgar and Anne share the similar notion that “the life of an artist is not one easily shared with another.” Both are suffering from a lack of inspiration and direction. During the time Degas spent in America, he “had achieved little recognition,”and his brothers hope he will take an interest (and make an investment) in the family cotton business. Anne has given up her art for her busy internship and her flailing love life. Though the museum job isn’t her dream, she understands art is “ ‘not an easy way to make a living.’ ” She’s “avoided facing the truth” that she can’t live the “dreamer” life just as Degas begins to feel he must help his family by selling his work and sending them much-needed money. Eventually, New Orleans offers both a “new subject matter for [their] art,” Anne with her new-found sympathy for the poor of the city and Edgar with his own family’s business.

The growth of Anne’s relationship with her half-sister, Stella, in conjunction with Anne’s realization about the struggles of poverty-stricken New Orleanians is an interesting subplot. Anne has only recently learned of her sister’s existence because Stella, the product of a teenage dalliance, was given up for adoption immediately after her birth because of their grandfather’s racism since Stella was biracial. Anne’s overwhelming “guilt” over her “half-sister’s lost inheritance haunted her day and night,” and though she wants to share her inheritance, “she didn’t favor the idea of giving up part of her own share” to the “half-sister she barely knew.” Stella is also soon facing eviction because she lives in Section C, a “slum” where the houses are “more like shacks.” Anne could offer Stella a home in their grandfather’s former house, but she doesn’t really know her, and their fledgling relationship is awkward at best. In learning about her sister’s life, Anne begins to understand and sympathize with the vandals who destroyed part of her house “when a short distance away homes were being demolished” in a part of the city with as much historical importance as the area where rich Creoles once lived. Anne’s dynamic character growth is both inspirational and realistic. 

This review was written for Chanticleer Reviews.

Book Review: Manufactured Witches by Michelle Rene

Sixteen-year-old Nat is a boxcar kid. Since losing his grandmother and family home to the ravages of the Dust Bowl, he has been on his own, hopping trains across Texas in search of a place for himself amid so much loss. Outside of Amarillo, Nat feels a peculiar sensation, a tug from destiny, that pulls him toward the small town of Tanglewood. However, instead of finding a job and some much-needed food, he discovers Polly Jones, a teenager like himself, chained to a post with a sign above her reading, “Thou shalt not suffer a witch.” Nat can’t bring himself to abandon her to the small-minded, fearful townsfolk and immediately becomes her protector until the arrival of Camille Renoir Lavendou, a local woman who operates Miss Camille’s Home for Wayward Children. No one dares stop Camille from releasing Polly and taking both teens with her because Camille is reputed to be in the “witchin’ business” herself. Nat’s excitement at the prospect of food and a place to stay quickly turns to disbelief and wariness when he steps inside Camille’s sanctuary. What he thought was a ploy on Camille’s part to keep the nosey townsfolk at bay doesn’t seem to be a trick at all when he sees Nan, an ancient, glove-wearing woman who paints the ghosts who visit her; Jacob, a clairvoyant, non-verbal child who uses a chess board to plot different realities; Crow, an ageless boy who transforms into a bird at will; and Buck, a pompous taxidermied deer with very high standards. When Polly, too, begins to exhibit extraordinary abilities, Nat begins to feel like an outsider. Despite his limitations, Nat’s intense loyalty quickly leads him into a much more dangerous situation, where his very life may lay in the balance. 

For lovers of the paranormal, this novel will be a special treat! Miss Camille’s Home for Wayward Children is a delight in every room. From books that magically fill for the specific reader to rooms with waterfalls and koi ponds, this realm of possibilities will leave the reader clambering for more and wanting to explore right along with Nat. The delight of discovery and fantastic description within the novel will make readers feel like a kid again, but while the surface of the plot is innocent and childlike, the theme beneath will satisfy the adult need for real substance.

Nat’s story is one of belonging. Throughout his journey, he has the innate, human need for acceptance and home, not just a physical place to lay his head, but the real need for family and kinship. The Dust Bowl setting plays such an intricate role in this theme because so many Americans were searching for what nature and man took from them, their place in the universe. Nat’s story, though fictional, was played out in real-time for millions of people. He has lost everything, his family, his home, his identity. His search and subsequent finding of his place leads to a finding of himself. Though he often feels like he doesn’t belong anywhere–not the boxcar, tramp world, nor Camille’s menagerie of unique people–he comes to see exactly who he is and of what he is capable. Although facing the potential of great danger, Camille, an African American, creates a home for any and all. She is warned multiple times that she cannot take in white children. Her love and that of all her “children” is colorblind. Her home is a haven and a place to discover their true identity. Acceptance takes centerstage in this novel and leaves the reader wrapped in a cozy hug of belonging.

Another major idea within the novel is defending those you love. Nat is the proverbial knight in shining armor. In fact, Nat’s moniker of “Galahad” (given to him by Camille) fits perfectly. Nat defends the weak though he himself is seen by most as a candidate for this category. He immediately jumps to Polly’s aid and continues that behavior throughout the story. Once he is taken in by Camille, he stalwartly defends both her and the other occupants of the house with his very life. He is a true champion, and though he seems to have no supernatural abilities, his courage is more than enough to make him extraordinary.

This review was written for Chanticleer Reviews.

Book Review: The Particular Appeal of Gillian Pugsley by Susan Örnbratt

Irish-born Gillian McAllister knew she was meant for bigger things than a quiet life among her large extended family. Leaving home at seventeen against her protective father’s wishes, Gillian has lived several lifetimes. She was a nanny for a maharaja, a caretaker for WWII internees, and a nurse on the Isle of Man before finally becoming a wife, mother, and grandmother in London, Canada, where she spent the majority of her eighty-nine years. Now with only weeks to live after being stricken by cancer, she knows her time with her beloved granddaughter and namesake is truly precious. Before she goes, she wants to pass on the poems that capture her long, adventurous life to the junior Gillian in hopes that she will use the poems to write about grandmother’s ultimate adventure, her hidden love story. While on vacation in Canada, the teenage Gillian meets and falls madly in love with Christian Hunter. Her love of Christian consumes her, but she leaves him at the cusp of a war that soon alters the course of the world, but destiny isn’t finished with Gillian, and the two reunite after the carnage only to find their love is as fiery and fierce as ever. However, even a love this strong can’t outrun fate, and Gillian is determined to find a way to show her beloved granddaughter the truth before it is too late.

A beautiful theme within this novel is the simple notion of loving life. Even before she steps out into the adult world and leaves Ireland, Gillian knows that life is for living. She wants to squeeze every drop of adventure possible from the time she is given and feast on all that it has to offer. Her ingenuity, spunk, and spicy attitude create an unquenchable need to travel, to meet people, and, most importantly, to make the world a better place. She refuses to settle for a mediocre life and rejects the moderation others preach and try to instill in her. Her “magnificent obsession” isn’t diminished by anything– not heartbreak, a world war, or even death. She lives with passion and gusto, fostering the belief in others that love and laughter, stories and adventures, make life worth living. Her sprawling life’s story is more than just survival and lost love. It’s about finding joy and purpose amongst death and destruction.

The character relationships between Gillian and others is a perfectly developed part of the novel. Gillian’s attachment to her granddaughter is more than just a name. Young Gillian is an aspiring novelist. Both women understand the importance of storytelling and the impact of words. From the moment Gilly was born, Gillian felt the connection between them, and only Gilly can breathe life into her adoration of Christian Hunter. She entrusts her poems to Gilly without telling her the story, allowing Gilly to uncover the secret she has kept for over fifty years, knowing Gilly will understand more than anyone else in Gillian’s life. Watching their last days together unfold is touching and reminiscent for any reader who has shared a bond with a grandparent. 

Gillian’s secret love, Christian, is another important relationship. From the time she was young, Gillian knew someone was waiting for her, someone drawing closer with each day, someone staring at the same moon and longing for another. When she meets Christian, she just knows as does he, and though, ultimately, Gillian comes to realize she doesn’t want to devote herself to one man when the world is waiting, she cannot deny the connection between them. The two are the epitome of opposites attract with his easy-going, unrushed personality, but he immediately sees the effect she has on others, her zest for life. No matter how hard either tries to drown out the other, they can’t escape their entwined destinies, and their contrary natures create a perfect balance. The dance of fate between Christian and Gillian is thrilling and will keep the reader wondering until the end. 

The gorgeous settings of Gillian’s life are an integral part of her history. The richly painted scenes are beautiful and inspiring for the character as well as the reader. From the sweeping sea cliffs to the serenity of Gillian’s cottage on the Isle of Man, the setting becomes its own character. Gillian both embodies and is affected by the scenery. In the quiet of a winter-draped meadow and the countryside teeming with life, Gillian sees herself and the many lives she’s lived.

This review was written for Chanticleer Reviews.

Book Review: Path of the Half Moon by Vince Bailey

After being charged with burglary and attempted arson, fifteen-year-old aspiring African American boxer Curtis Jefferson has been sent to Fort Grant, a juvenile detention area in Arizona, and all of the creepy stories and whispered warnings about the former US military outpost used by the US cavalry to eliminate the Apache a hundred years ago pale in comparison to the truth he finds there. Not only is Curtis facing racism from both inmates and guards, but he is also very aware of a presence not of this world. He quickly discovers (though he doesn’t want to admit it) that he is sentient to the atrocities of the fort’s bloody past. As the site where Pinal and Aravaipa Apaches were slaughtered in their sleep, the fort seems to be a crossroads where past and present meet. From mournful coyotes to hundreds of circling vultures, Curtis can’t escape the strange visions and events inside and outside the fort. When he attracts the unwanted attention of Harvey Huish, an inmate with  strange abilities seemingly connected to the fort, Curtis creates a powerful enemy who is bent on revenge and humiliation. 

A major theme of the novel is the power of language. It appears in numerous aspects of the plot from the Apache cursing the white man’s cunning use of his complicated and deceitful language to Randy’s appreciation of Howard Cosell’s elevated vocabulary. The frame-story technique within the novel establishes the concept of storytelling and the influence of words. Curtis’s story is narrated by Vince, Curtis’s new friend, who is relaying it to the reader at the same time Curtis is telling him. As a natural-born storyteller, Curtis is the storyteller in town, and Vince sees the story as a treasure, a jewel, that Curtis has seen fit to share with him and thus sees himself as somehow honored in receiving the tale.  Vince values the story as more than just words; it makes him greater for having heard it. Though the story is unbelievable at times, Curtis does what all great storyteller’s do–he creates a suspension of disbelief, granting the listener the right to believe, to feel that “[a]ll things are possible,”an idea repeatedly given by various characters within the story. Through the telling, Curtis finds solace in giving his  outlandish tale a literal voice. The theme appears later in the character of Will Farnsworth, Harvey’s tortured attorney. As the newest and most talented attorney in the firm that represents the Huish family, Will has been given the unachievable task of pacifying Harvey during his imprisonment at Fort Grant. Will, like many lawyers, used words in “purposed profusion,” trying unsuccessfully to befriend Harvey and later intimidate him with language. He attempts to use language as his weapon, rather than a tool for understanding, a failure which leads to his enslavement to the abhorrent Harvey.  

Another interesting aspect of the novel is the blurring of time. The sinister fort itself is one part of this theme because it seems to exist in two time periods, its tragic past and its purposeful present. Curtis repeatedly sees images of days past that cross into his present-day 1960s. In fact, his first day at the fort, he sees a hanging from the days of the Indian uprising. Later, Curtis crosses this boundary himself and crosses paths with a murdered Apache boy. The Headmaster, Roy Whitcomb, known by all as the Lieutenant, never leaves the fort but is stuck it seems within Fort Grant’s time loop, effectively becoming “the man in the maze,” the Pima tribal emblem. He is forever trapped within the maze’s limitations and obstacles, unable to make the right choices and find his way into the next plane, the gift of a better existence. The very retelling of Curtis’s story symbolizes this blurring of time as well. During the entire story, Vince’s watch remains fixed on the time when Curtis began his tale, time seemingly suspended along with his disbelief. 

Path of the Half Moon is a fascinating tale of cruelty, revenge, and redemption set against the mysterious echoes of the West. Any lover of paranormal mystery will not want to miss this one.

This review was written for Chanticleer Reviews.

Book Review: Wrapped in the Stars by Elena Mikalsen

Maya Radelis has spent the last seven months running from herself. After the death of a patient, she leaves her pediatric residency in New York City for the jungles of Guatemala and the Family Health Volunteers Mission, but even after she exhausted her six-month leave, she still cannot bring herself to return and ends up in Edinburgh, Scotland, where fate intervenes. Maya stumbles across a ring in an antique shop, a ring with a German inscription that somehow “calls” to her. After purchasing the ring, Maya decides to trace the history of it and its owner with the brief seven days before she must return to her university and face the consequences of her absence as well as the investigation of her patient’s death. Fearing she will no longer be allowed to continue in her medical career and dreading the meeting where she’ll learn her fate, she wants to make the most of her search for the ring’s previous owner, especially after she begins to have strange dreams and memory-like episodes of the woman she thinks owned the ring. Enlisting the help of Pauline, her French friend, she traces an odd, twisting path through Paris then Bern, Switzerland. The more she discovers, the more she begins to question her destiny.

With its alternating narration, this novel shows two women worlds (and times) apart but with so many similarities. Maya Radelis, the modern American medical student, is shown in parallel with Rebecca Miller, a Swiss medical student in the years leading up to World War I, and though the obstacles for Rebecca are vastly different than for Maya, their feelings of uncertainty and their love of medicine are very much the same. Rebecca’s desire to become a doctor comes from a family heritage of medicine and, in some part, from the death of her brother, Karl. Maya is also following a family legacy while hoping to somehow erase the guilt she feels for the childhood death of her twin sister, Ella. Both of these accomplished women have this need to “[e]arn [their] right to be alive” and somehow validate their own existence through medicine. Both women share a Jewish ancestry, and neither woman sees the need to marry, desiring instead their independence, a world they have built instead of one handed to them through family ties and marriage bonds, while fearing the lonely paths before them. Maya and Rebecca doubt their abilities and often wonder if their sacrifices are truly worth the pain of disappointing others, but both women have strong supporters in the form of their grandmothers with their constant message of self-worth and strength, and though there are so many similarities, the difference in Rebecca’s time is significant. Rebecca must pave the way for modern women with her studies and her determination to be respected as a female doctor. She sees value in women beyond being wives, mothers, or punching bags for husbands and fathers. Rebecca begins a women’s clinic and leaves her home to travel to America. Maya gains strength from Rebecca’s story and learns to stand up for herself and her dreams. She can feel Rebecca’s “resolve and pride,” her “determination,” and leans on these when she cannot find her own strength. 

“Synchronicity,” or “meaningful coincidences” plays an enormously important role in the novel. The reader will enjoy following Maya’s story, the twists and detours that create such an interesting plot as her history and future entwine. Many of these coincidences will seemingly play out through Rebecca’s story as well, and seeing how the author meshes timelines gives the reader those “epiphany” moments when the stories come together from the robin that leads Maya to the antique shop to the letter she finds in a hundred-year-old book. It also will make you wonder just how much we choose for ourselves and how much the universe chooses for us.

Eternal love is the most touching aspect of Maya and Rebecca’s stories. The German inscription Maya finds in Rebecca’s ring says it best with its message of living within the heart of another and being forever “therein.” The love of Rebecca and Mark seemingly transcends time and lives again through Maya and David. It’s a beautiful message, a love strong enough to defy death and reclaim the lovers a century later. There is something reassuring and peaceful in believing love cannot die. What lovers wouldn’t want such a legacy?

This review was written for Chanticleer Reviews.

Book Review: A Venomous Love by Chris Karlsen

Detective Ruddy Bloodstone is facing the most bizarre crime spree of his career as a copper on the Victorian streets of London. Someone is using a poisonous Cape cobra as a weapon. At first, simple robbery seems to be the only motivation, but when the suspect suddenly kills wealthy businessman Isaiah Underhill, these crimes go from strange to deadly. Ruddy and his partner, Archie Holcomb, have few clues and no idea what would cause such a change in the criminal’s behavior. Ruddy suspects this isn’t just an unlucky break for Underhill but a targeted killing, and when the criminal returns to attack Honoria Underhill, the victim’s daughter, he knows he has to find the man before he succeeds in killing Honoria as well. With Jack the Ripper still fresh on the minds of every citizen, Ruddy and Archie have to locate this criminal quickly or risk not only the ire of their supervisor but also the shame of losing the case to Scotland Yard. But with no clear connection to the Underhills, no idea of the killer’s identity other than his scarred appearance, and a weapon capable of killing with a single bite, Ruddy is facing one of his toughest, deadliest mysteries.

The strong characterization of numerous characters shines bright within this fourth edition to The Bloodstone Series. Ruddy Bloodstone, a Holmes-esque protagonist, has an intuitive “ability to read people and [an] acuity at measuring their nature.” A talented sketch artist and survivor of the Zulu wars, he is more than a talented detective. This no-nonsense former soldier isn’t “in the habit of apologizing for doing his job,” regardless of the social rank and attitude of the Londoners who fail to respect him. However, Ruddy is more than that. He is also very forward-thinking for the time period. This trait is most obvious in his relationship with Honeysuckle, his girlfriend. He often turns to her when he needs advice or simply to talk through the particulars of his case, but the most endearing quality is his respect for her honesty and the “rightness” of her choices. Ruddy appreciates and loves her “self-assured attitude” and “belief in her choices” and would never presume to tell her who she should be. The relationship between these two is more modern than Victorian, but this type of respect and love aren’t limited to Ruddy and Honeysuckle. Though not appearing as often, Archie Holcomb’s relationship with his wife, Meg, mirrors much the same qualities. Their love is touching, and the strength he finds within her quiet confidence is clearly portrayed. Archie’s calming influence and “extraordinary way of easing people’s pain”seems directly tied to his steady familial bonds with Meg and his twin daughters. Though not a major character, a similar strength can be found in Will, Ruddy’s brother. A former officer stationed in India, Will has recently been dismissed from the service that has defined him for twenty years due to a permanent injury. He refuses to take advantage of a possible relationship with a wealthy female character on principle though it could make his life much easier. He is solid and forthright, and his addition adds to this cast of male solidity. 

Kip Idrizi, the thief-turned-murderer, provides an interesting issue within the novel. Though he commits two murders and is clearly an antagonist, his story and reasons for committing the crimes will give the reader pause. Kip, an orphan and smallpox-scarred member of the lower class, wants a better life. With no education and no prospects, he resorts to his life of crime after saving and befriending a Cape cobra, Delilah. He hopes to “earn” enough money from “a toff with a fat wallet” to go to America and begin a life of obscurity in a “dirty” town in the West where he wants desperately to be overlooked for his scars. His feelings of inadequacy, though leading to heinous acts, are directly related to society’s treatment of him. In this vicious cycle, he cannot escape the jibes and hatred because of his appearance and poverty, so he, in essence, falls prey to an unscrupulous member of that upper-class group. This situation creates a duality in the reader’s feelings for Kip, where his vicious crimes war with his kindness toward a near-dead reptile and desire for a simple life of obscurity. 

Class discrimination presents a major dilemma for a number of the novel’s characters. Most obviously, this difference in societal treatment affects Kip; however, it extends to the protagonist as well. The distance between the haves and have nots leads to a lack of respect for Ruddy and Archie and blocks the progression of their case at times. The victims of Kip’s crimes often treat the two detectives with disdain because of their peerage and self-proclaimed importance. Will also suffers from this disparity. Though he is a veteran injured abroad on behalf of his queen, he doesn’t receive the respect he deserves for his service.  The class division not only leads to the crimes but also shows a stark contrast between the wealthy and the “every man” in Victorian England.

This review was written for Chanticleer Reviews.

Book Review: Blazing Bullets in Deadwood Gulch by Jacquie Rogers

Honey Beaulieu is going to get her man–no matter how many tries it takes. Determined to capture the elusive Boyce McNitt, Honey is off to Deadwood Gulch despite the warnings that the dangerous road is plagued by thieves and natives.  But before she can pursue the $500 bounty, she needs to take care of issues at home, including finding a shop for a pregnant seamstress, sixteen-year-old Emma, a home for eight-year-old Myles Cavanaugh, his two younger sisters, and their pregnant mother. Between her do-gooding, denying her blossoming feelings for Deputy US Marshal Sam Lancaster, and a run-in with a herd of escaped pigs determined to destroy Fry Pan Gulch, Honey barely has time to get out of town before she gets trapped by winter. Once on the road, she comes face-to-face with Sean Chaney, the Badger Claw Kid, a bounty worth $400, and is intent on capturing him, as well. With a little otherworldly, albeit not entirely helpful, advice from her ghost guide Roscoe, Honey will have to take down two dangerous fugitives. But, when she runs into a fireball-throwing ghost bent on revenge, her real adventure begins.

This third installment of the Honey Beaulieu – Man Hunter series reunites the reader with the unique cast from Honey’s previous adventures as well as introducing some new characters sure to return. This quirky cast shares in the ultimate theme of the novel, good old-fashioned “help your fellow man.” Only with the help of Agnes, Honey’s mother, the madam of the Tasty Chicken Emporium; her thoroughbred racing mule, Pickles; and Roscoe, the mind-reading ghost, is Honey able to rid the Wyoming Territory of bad guys. This theme permeates every aspect of the plot. Most of the citizens of Fry Pan Gulch perform some act of kindness for another character. From gifting poor children with small treats to hiring criminals to keep them out of trouble, the townspeople’s pay-it-forward attitude embodies the spirit of what most readers associate with a simpler, kinder time in American history. These tiny acts of humanity remind the reader that caring for people, not things, can make the most significant difference in someone’s life.

Warm and kind-hearted while remaining fiercely independent and tough, Honey is a woman ahead of her time. Much like her bonnet-wearing mule, Sassy, she refuses to be led blindly along but forges a path of her own, not allowing herself to worry about finding a husband and assume her womanly role as a homemaker but choosing instead to follow her “papa’s roving blood.” She has seen too much of what happens to weak women in her mother’s brothel, and she knows she could never allow herself the weakness she sees in most women. This poker-playing bounty hunter purses a life of freedom unheard of for 1879 and trades in the homestead for the dusty trail and freedom. She is more than sassy enough to hold the reader’s interest, surprising everyone except herself with what she can accomplish. But Honey isn’t the only strong woman in the novel. Agnes, Honey’s mother, owns and operates one of the most successful whorehouses in the Territory and manages to do it as “ethically” as possible. She cares about her employees and providing a safe environment where they choose to remain rather than to be enslaved by impossible contracts and cruel pimps. Even Emma and Myles’s mother show strong women. Emma is only a child herself, but she still manages to make a life for her and her unborn child by starting a sewing business. Myles’s mother, Ivy Mae, has been abandoned by her husband (stepfather to her children) and is also expecting a child. She is willing to sacrifice herself to feed her children. In this world where husbands are killed, and boyfriends shirk responsibilities, the women manage to survive – and sometimes flourish – in true female fashion!

This review was written for Chanticleer Reviews.

Book Review: Campari Crimson by Traci Andrighetti

Texas transplant Franki Amato has only lived in New Orleans for only a year and a half, but she has already seen some pretty strange things. As a private investigator for Private Chicks, she has had her share of oddball cases and clients, but this one is blood-curdling–a vampire serial killer is stalking The Big Easy. With Halloween only days away, the initial robberies of local blood banks by a caped figure seem more prank-like than serious until a fraternity member of Delta Upsilon Delta is found drained of blood in one of the city’s above-ground crypts with the message “Campari Crimson” scrawled on the wall in his own blood. Franki wants nothing to do with the cryptic case, but when a psychic gives Franki a chilling impromptu reading from a restless spirit who claims someone drained and drank his blood and then warns her the same thing is going to happen to her brother Anthony, Franki fears she will be drawn in anyway. Her fears are confirmed when Josh Santo, a multi-millionaire millennial, hires Franki to find the real culprit after he is accused of the thefts. Josh’s bizarre behavior of dressing up as infamous self-proclaimed NOLA vamp Compte Jacques de Saint Germain-all while living in the house belonging to the bloodsucker-attracts the attention of Detective Wesley Sullivan and Franki thinks Josh may be more guilty than innocent. As the case escalates with yet another killing, Franki faces danger at every turn and finding the killer becomes entirely too personal. The Crescent City on the eve of a blood moon Halloween, what could possibly go wrong?

Real terror meets comedy that forces the reader to hang on with both hands in this fast-paced romp through one of America’s most enigmatic cities. From the sixty-something ex-stripper and nudist Glenda to Pam the hippie with her sweater-wearing Dachshund, this novel is one fun ride. Around every corner, it is sure to surprise like a Gothic cabaret funhouse. The vividly drawn characters are a genuine joy, and the city is celebrated in fine fashion. Anyone who has ever visited and loved this famously irreverent place will appreciate how NOLA becomes a living, breathing entity. Set against the backdrop of voodoo, cities of the dead, and history ripe with vampire lore, New Orleans is intricately woven into every aspect of the plot. One aspect of the city that comes through loud and clear is the idea of “live and let live.” First appearing on a necklace worn by one of the characters, this theme extends throughout the plot from a priest’s “judge not” advice to Raven the vampire’s philosophy of only feeding on willing donors. A feeling of acceptance for all permeates the atmosphere of N’Awlins and thus the novel. “Let the good times roll” is more than a motto; it’s a way of life for the New Orleanians.

What do you get when you cross a meddling nonna with a slacker brother? For Franki, you get family. When Franki is bulldozed by her mother into taking in her grandmother and brother (despite the fact that she has only a one-bedroom apartment), she doesn’t send the two packing back to Texas. Although an unwilling participant in this new “get Anthony a life” scheme, Franki still agrees to take them and even gives up her bed for her nonna, a force of nature in black weighing in at less than a hundred pounds. Nonna’s constant meddling in Franki’s love life, or lack thereof, and her case are both an annoyance and a sweet reminder of an Italian grandmother’s love. Regardless of the problems they cause, both Nonna and Anthony are family, “[a]nd among Italian-Americans, family [is] everything.” It’s an endearing part of the story that will make the reader love Franki Amato even more.

Campari Crimson: Franki Amato Mysteries, Book 4 by Traci Andrighetti won First Place in the CIBA 2018 M&M Awards for Mystery and Mayhem novels.

This review was written for Chanticleer Reviews.