Month: March 2019

Book Review: Eaves of Destruction by Kate Carlisle

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Eaves of Destruction (Fixer-Upper Mystery #5)Eaves of Destruction by Kate Carlisle
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Eaves of Destruction is the fifth book in the ‘Fixer-Upper Mystery’ cozy series by Kate Carlisle. In these books, Shannon, a ~30ish construction business owner, solves crimes as an amateur sleuth while helping renovate a wonderful seaside town in California. In this edition, the local town inspector causes trouble at several of her job sites and finds himself murdered in the neighbor’s orangery (sun room / conservatory). Whodunit!?!

Shannon is a fun protagonist. She pokes fun at herself but also knows when to be serious, just like the series itself. Obviously, if this many murders occurred in a small town, and the same person found the body all the time, she’d be locked up for some sort of charge to prevent anything else from happening! But this is a book, and there needs to be some level of recognition for that fine line of reality versus fiction. Of all the cozies I’ve read, this one is near the top of the list of those that manage that balance quite adeptly.

The victim was mean and ruthless, he just invaded people’s homes to inspect work even when it wasn’t time or he didn’t have permission to enter. The culprit was semi-believable, but I wish it had been someone else. The family we’re focusing on is interesting, and I liked the addition of Amanda, a new contractor who helps save the day when too many jobs turn up. I liked that we saw more of Shannon’s friends and their personal relationships with the men and/or families in their lives. I was glad to see the connection between the sheriff and Shannon turning into something much more easy-going.

The ending was a little over-the-top, but it made me laugh and I enjoyed how it all came together. I have already ordered the next one in the series and will read it in early April. My goal is to be caught up as soon as possible because the seventh book comes out later this year. BTW, it was adapted into a TV series in case anyone is interested in watching it. Maybe then I can shift over to the author’s other series.

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Book Review: One Little Secret by Cate Holahan

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One Little SecretOne Little Secret by Cate Holahan
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

One Little Secret is the second novel written by Cate Holahan that I’ve read. Part mystery and thriller, it tells the story of six neighbors (three couples) who rent a house on the eastern shores of Long Island for part of the summer. As each chapter unfolds in third person perspective, we learn of the drama transpiring in their individual and combined households.

This book was a very easy read. I devoured it in two chunks over a twenty-four hour period, finding myself unwilling to put it down except for meals and priorities that I couldn’t skip out on. The characters are vivid, realistic but with a slight caricature-like tendency, and will clearly show their motivation for each move they make. Holahan has weaved clever tension beyond just the normal marital problems of infidelity and monotonous boredom. At times, I thought these people were all horrible, yet at others, I saw moments of intimacy and pain that provoked sentimental feelings for them.

Given where they rented a summer home, it’s obvious they came from money, though some try to indicate they do not. Doctors, lawyers, tech start-ups, and sports reporters earn a lot in this world, so be prepared for a high amount of affluence and the drama that comes with it. From the start in the prologue where someone is being pushed under water, you know there is a secret worth protecting, but which of the six is the victim and which is the murderer is the game you’ve signed on to play when you picked up this book. Love it!

By 15% in, all the major clues are dropped. We know the victim’s hair color or body type, then one by one the author described the six people so that it became obvious who died. The detective from the Suffolk County police force is also a key focus, as she’s called to scene of this crime and another one which has a connection we’ve yet to realize. It’s also personal for the detective given her young daughter was innocently sucked into a party gone wrong, and that party was attended by one of the six house guests.

My favorite aspect of the book is how the story alternates across three days–day before, day of, and day after. There are flashbacks, and information dropped about the past, but the critical elements are what’s not being said in conversations and which neighbor has a connection we don’t understand to someone else. I adore that suspense, especially trying to guess not only who but what happened.

Overall, I waffled between a 4 and 4.5 stars, but settled on the higher rating. There were a few items that needed a better closure or clarity, so I couldn’t give it a perfect rating. The ending was apropos, but I felt like the detective lingered in the story and made too many mistakes. I didn’t always believe she was smart enough to solve the puzzle and felt like a distraction to the story. It was minor, but enough that I noticed it. Also, we didn’t get enough time with the victim to understand exactly who (s)he was as a person and parent. I felt bad for the death, but one or two more scenes to show the vibrant life and charisma once held would’ve made it pop even more.

Holahan’s writing style is engaging and has a stellar fluidity that makes you believe you’re standing in the rental house or on the beach as everything occurs around you. I look forward to her next book as it will be at the top of my reading list.

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Book Review: The Champagne Conspiracy by Ellen Crosby

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The Champagne Conspiracy (Wine Country Mysteries, #7)The Champagne Conspiracy by Ellen Crosby
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Champagne Conspiracy by Ellen Crosby is the 7th book in the ‘Wine Country Mysteries’ series that takes place in Virginia. So far, this is my favorite and earns 4.5 star. What a roller coast ride for an avid genealogist, historian, wine-lover, and cozy fan.

Three families, all connected to Lucie Montgomery, the main character in the series. A secret affair with President Harding in the early 20th century. A famous California winery with a potential change in ownership. A death from a century ago, then another one happening in current times. Chock full of mystery and connections, I couldn’t put this one down. At times, the overly complex set of relationships and time period needed some additional attention and re-read, but that’s what happens in a genealogical mystery. I loved it!

Between the explanation for how champagne (or sparkling wine) is created and the extra-marital affairs President Warding had (I hadn’t been familiar), I felt like I learned so much in this book. It pushes the line from cozy mystery into mid-range mystery, but I was totally fine with it. It added a little something extra this time, and that can be a fun change.

The characters evolve in this book, too. Quinn and Lucie’s relationship reaches a new level. Her cousin, Dominique, is presented with an amazing opportunity. Her brother, Eli, grows up. It’s such a fascinating family… I really want the youngest sister to come back for a visit again.

Already ordered the next one… can’t wait to read it.

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Book Review: What’s in a Name? (Volume 1) by Sally Cronin

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What's in a Name?What’s in a Name? by Sally Cronin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

There are many topics that will draw my attention to a book. In Sally Cronin’s collection ‘What’s in a name?’ I found a whole bunch that piqued my curiosity: short stories, genealogy, and how first names are chosen. On top of that, it’s the first volume in this series, which means I have another to read soon. Now this made my weekend!

Cronin shares ~20 short stories covering the letters A through J in volume one. She lists a male and a female name for each letter, then contributes a story ranging from five to ten pages each. Short, but not simple, and I mean that in a good way. Cronin packs an immense amount into each brief tale… whether it’s personality traits, complex plots, or comparisons between two people over different periods of time, I found everything from nuggets of glory to hilarious banter.

One of my favorite aspects of this work was the varying time frames, locations, and genres of each short story. Cronin deals with normal life events, everything from death to pregnancy, marriage to sickness. How she manages to pack such a punch with so many characters in so few pages is astonishing! I kinda want a sequel to cover what ends up happening to many of the people we’ve met.

If you’re looking for something fun, clever, and easy-to-digest in short samples, this is definitely for you. I recommend it for those interested in learning about how personalities sometime echo the name chosen for an individual… and perhaps vice versa. Kudos to the author for finding a new fan… and I’ll be reading volume two next month, so be prepared!

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Book Review: The Cracked Altar by Timothy J. R. Rains

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The Cracked AltarThe Cracked Altar by Timothy J. R. Rains
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Cracked Altar, a fantasy novel by Timothy J. R. Rains, first interested me because of its intriguing title. Would it have a religious theme? What dastardly action would happen, as when something says cracked, it usually has a clever twist. As soon as I dove in, Hinkle’s near-capture captivated me. I’m not typically a reader in this genre, but the more I sample some works, I find myself becoming a fan.

Hinkle’s family tree is complex. We immediately learn that her mother is gone. She’s been living with a grandmother in a world where her family has suffered. There’s an uncle who’s a mystery and aunt who’s either a pious nun or a nefarious witch. Which will it be? Hinkle is rescued by her own special brand of knight, and her grandmother engineers a solution that will benefit them all in the future. It’s a powerful scene and sets a fantastic tone for the book. We follow Hinkle’s path with her new protector only to learn nothing we’ve thought true is indeed accurate. In this world, what’s gray is more important than what’s black and white.

Rains builds a fascinating and well-developed world where the rich are rich, and the poor are poor. Part-fairy tale and part mystical quest, the novel will engage your visual senses as each scene and action are vividly described. The battle scenes were strong but not over-the-top. The secrets were revealed at timely moments. And the clues were in abundance. The story is gripping, and I’m hopeful there will be a sequel. Kudos to the author for gaining a new fan in the fantasy genre.

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Book Review: Chaos by Patricia Cornwell

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Chaos (Kay Scarpetta, #24)Chaos by Patricia Cornwell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Chaos is the 24th book in the ‘Kay Scarpetta’ thriller and suspense series focusing on a medical examiner’s investigations. It is currently the last book Patricia Cornwell has written in this series as of 2016 as well as serves as the third issue in an arc about serial killer Carrie Grethen.

The novel is a slower read than usual. We spend a lot of time in Kay’s head worrying about things that we don’t know a lot about yet. For the most part, the book takes place in just a few days. Several odd deaths occur, and little by little, Kay, Marino, Benton, and Lucy connect them together with the help of various staff. It seems like Carrie Grethen has found another accomplice, and she’s sought revenge on Kay. Unfortunately, someone close to Kay pays the price in this installment. We also end the books with an incredibly concerning secret reveal about a new character who was introduced a couple of books ago. What drama!

As a three-book arc, it was definitely interesting to see the progression of the serial killer’s mind. I almost wish we had chapters from Carrie’s perspective, so that we fully appreciated her psychotic need to get revenge. That’s my biggest concern in this series right now… if an author wants to build up a huge nut as the crazy killer, we need to know why not just through other people’s views, but through the killer’s mind, too. We get that only if they provide messages in writing, make phone calls, or interact in scenes with dialog. That hasn’t much happened in this arc, so I struggled to really understand ‘why’ it was so important to hurt Kay.

As a standalone book, other than being a little too slow of a read, it was fascinating to learn all about the technology and weapons being used. It’s probably one or two levels above my knowledge base and capability of understanding the detail, but not so much I felt removed. It clicked, but I found myself skimming on occasion when we got into paragraphs about exactly how it came to be in the hands of the serial killer. The best aspects were seeing Kay’s connections with Marino and her staff. She shines with them. Not with Benton. He’s a bit too boring for her. And Lucy has been too far removed for a boatload of books, so I’ve kinda lost any interest in her. The new girlfriend and son angle is interesting, but I wish we’d met them sooner.

That said, it’s a fine ending for the arc. I’m left wondering where the books go next… she’s due for one this year, but I can’t find anything about it. I’ll get it when it comes out… this installment was a 3.5 for me.

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Book Review: Deck the Hallways by Kate Carlisle

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Deck the Hallways (A Fixer-Upper Mystery, #4)Deck the Hallways by Kate Carlisle
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Deck the Hallways is the 4th book in Kate Carlisle’s ‘A Fixer-Upper Mystery’ series. This one has a Christmas theme as Shannon and her construction crew renovate a home for multiple low-income families to move into over the holiday. As a feel-good, cozy story about a small town and the fun inhabitants, I enjoyed this book. As a mystery, it fell short for a few reasons. Let’s dive in.

All the makings of a fine whodunit are in place. Shannon and several people clash with the executive from the bank who’s making their lives miserable as they rush to close on the renovations. A mysterious woman claims a Santa Claus helper inappropriately touched her during a meeting. Jewelry has been stolen. Many people want that banker to leave for good. At about 20% in, we’re prepped for a wonderful mystery full of culprits and side stories. Then things kinda fell apart for me, which is unusual. Rather than kill him off at the normal place in a story, it doesn’t happen until almost 50% into the book, allowing for more people to show potential motives. I would’ve been okay with this except more suspects kept creeping up rather than exploring the 4 or 5 already noted. And then the book quickly jumped through 7 days to get to Christmas Day, giving maybe a page to a few lines of narrative telling us what happened each day. There were lots of those “***” markings noting scene changes which didn’t work well in this style of book.

By the time the villain was revealed, it was a little too much for me. I normally try to find the reasoning and get on board, but in this book, it felt like this was rushed way too quickly. I saw several other methods including starting the book closer to Christmas, fleshing out 1 or 2 stories in more detail rather than add 4 or 5 odd red herrings, and adding more twists to the core action. A few items were also left a little too open, and I was jarred out of reading because of the frequent scene changes. All that said, it’s not bad… just not the normal caliber I’ve seen from the author. It felt sort of average, so I ended up with 3 stars on this one. Worth a read to see character growth, learn all about the remodels, and find some good mystery elements… just not complete enough to say it’s better than others.

On the good side, Shannon’s relationship with Mac changes. I loved the bonding scenes with her father. She and her core group of friends have a solid connection. The town feels real. I like the potential change between Whitney’s and Shannon’s tension, although it could go in either direction based on what happened in this book. I’ve already ordered the next one to read soon. I’m sure it was just a one-off, but I look forward to getting back on track.

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