Jun 28, 2011

Book Reviews: A Clutch of Cozy Mysteries

I have been enjoying these cozy mysteries from Berkley Publishing, review copies sent by the publisher. What a bonanza for summer reading! Here are my comments on the books.

Title: The Darling Dahlias and the Naked Ladies
Hardcover: 304 pages
Publisher: Berkley Hardcover
Release date: July 5, 2011

Comments: In this cute Southern cozy, the Darling Dahlias are a group of women in Alabama in the 1930s who have formed a garden club, and the "naked ladies" is the nickname given to a type of lily that sheds its flowers and leaves and comes up as a naked stalk, only to bloom again in a few days. The title could also refer to the Naughty and Nice Sisters, dancers from the Ziegfeld Frolic, who suddenly show up in town.

"So this woman is incognito," she said, buttering a piece of hot corn bread. "I guess that means she doesn't want anybody in town to know that she was in vaudeville." (ch. 4)

The Dahlias set out to uncover their secrets, and the novel gives the reader the added bonus of gardening information, southern style recipes and some good old fashioned household cleaning tips.

Title: Unraveled by Maggie Sefton
Hardcover: 304 pages
Publisher: Berkley Hardcover
Release date: June 7, 2011

Comments: A group of friends near Fort Connor, Colorado welcome Eustace Freemont, a writer of Old West history, who has come to town to do research on "modern" outlaws of the West, namely the big shots in real estate and energy development. Kelly Flynn, a CPA and a member of the local knitting club, accompanies her real estate friend Jennifer to visit a ranch and find the real estate developer/owner shot and killed. She becomes involved in finding out if it was suicide or a crime,and who might be responsible.

Jennifer looked up, her brown eyes huge. "Oh, my gawd! I can't believe we've walked in on another corpse. Kelly...we can't come into the canyon together anymore. Not alone, anyway." (ch. 3)

A knitting pattern for a summer tee, a recipe for Yummy Chocolate Cake, and  the story of Kelly's love interest add to the spiciness of the book. I would have preferred "proper introductions" to the many friends of Kelly's, however, as they enter the story only through conversation and speech. I kept track of them by taking notes!

Title: Books Can Be Deceiving by Jenn McKinlay
Paperback: 304 pages
Publisher: Berkley
Release date: July 5, 2011

Comments:  Lindsey Norris is director of the Briar Creek Public Library in Connecticut, trying to help one of her librarians, Beth, to get her children's book published. The chance arrives when a well known editor, Sydney Carlisle, visits the town. Sydney is really the editor for Beth's boyfriend, well-known writer Rick Eckman, who lives on a nearby island off the Connecticut coast. Rick, however, is adamant that Beth's book is not good enough to be published.
When Rick is murdered, the police suspect Beth as she was the one who found his body and the one with the most obvious motive. Lindsey thinks otherwise and sets out to prove it, with a little help from her current love interest, Capt. Mike Sullivan.

"Chief Daniels," he said."He's going to take the shortest route from point A to point B and completely disregard anything that doesn't fit into his preconceived notion of what happened." (ch. 9)

I really enjoyed this Library Lover's mystery, being a big library fan myself.

Title: How to Moon a Cat by Rebecca M. Hale
Paperback: 304 pages
Publisher: Berkley
Release date: July 5, 2011

Comments:  This is the third in the Cats and Curios Mystery series but the first read of the series for me. History buffs interested in California's Gold Rush era will enjoy this mystery that begins with the finding of a California flag and a toy bear in a deceased collector's stash, hidden behind the walls of his old apartment, and discovered by his neice and the curious paws of a cat.

This toy bear might well be a clue to one of Oscar's hidden treasures, I thought excitedly. I flipped the paper flag over and read the message printed on the opposite side.
Shiny gold lettering typed out  the words: NEVADA CITY, CALIFORNIA. (ch. 4)

Other people are searching for the treasure too, and there is danger in Nevada City! Definitely a lot of research went into this cozy!

Jun 26, 2011

Sunday Salon: Great Summer Reads

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A nice summer so far, not too hot, and with brief showers when the garden needs it! On another nice day, yesterday, we took a one-day bus tour to Chicago to see the sights, Navy Pier among them. The weather was perfect. Luckily we didn't try to eat at the annual Taste of Chicago, which had ten long lines waiting to buy food tickets and more long lines at each food kiosk. Our bus group decided the long waits were not worth it and opted to eat at other restaurants. Most of the group landed up at the Art Museum, but we sat by the Chicago River enjoying the boats, water taxis, and the views. Chicago is a great city to people watch too. Everyone wore sandals or tennis shoes, many people were speaking in different languages, and almost everyone on the streets seemed to be tourists. The city architecture also makes you want to keep looking up. Too bad we had to leave at 8 p.m. and couldn't sample the nightlife.

I reviewed some great novels last week, thrilled to be reading books that I really enjoy:
Mercy, a crime novel by Danish writer Jussi Adler-Olsen
The Sweetness of Tears, a novel by Nafisa Haji
The Art of Saying Goodbye, a novel by Ellyn Bache

In addition, I received books by authors whose work I have read and liked:
Betrayal of Trust: A J.P. Beaumont Novel by J. A. Jance
Overbite by Meg Cabot, the follow-up to Insatiable, a vampire romance I reviewed on June 10, and
a new author to me, Michael Marshall and his new thriller Killer Move.

Can't wait to sink my teeth into these, plus the other neat books I have on my shelf. What have you been reading?

Jun 24, 2011

Book Review: Mercy by Jussi Adler-Olsen

Title: Mercy (The Keeper of Lost Causes)
Author: Jussi Adler-Olsen, translated by Lisa Hartford
Paperback: 512 pages
Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd.
Genre: detective, crime fiction
Source: review copy from publisher
Objective rating: 5/5

About the book: Deputy detective superintendent Carl Morck of the Copenhagen Police, a detective with a good reputation, was nevertheless described by his coworkers as indolent, surly, and morose, a man who wanted to do things his own way and in his own time. Instead of demoting him, they decided to promote him and make head of his own section, Department Q, where he would be working on his own, with only an assistant for help.

Department Q was formed to handle cold cases, those deemed unsolvable yet important. Carl was given a new assistant, Assad, who seems to have no prior police experience. He turns out to be a gem in disguise, however, and helps Carl to get out of his chair and begin delving into the case of a former member of Parliament, Merete Lynggaard, missing for five years and presumed dead.  Merete is not dead, however, but imprisoned for five years in a box-like cell by unknown people, who leave her sometimes in perpetual darkness or perpetual light, without change of clothing, living for years in the most primitive conditions. She doesn't know who or what is behind her imprisonment or how long she will be allowed to live.

Carl begins to investigate with the help of Assad and his former contacts in government and the police.

My comments: A great police procedural with an unusual detective and an even more unusual side-kick in the resourceful and energetic Assad, who provides food, advice, information, and some comic relief to the serious situations Carl finds himself in. The plot was original, the main characters complex and realistic. There is pathos, humor, suspense mixed in this excellent thriller, which I enjoyed reading, almost all in one sitting. In other words, I didn't want to put it down.

About the author: Danish writer Jussi Adler-Olsen worked as a magazine editor and publisher before starting to write fiction. Mercy is the first of four novels in the Department of Q series. He was awarded the Glass Key Award for a crime novel by a Scandinavian author and has received several other awards in 2011.

Jun 21, 2011

Book Review: The Sweetness of Tears by Nafisa Haji

Teaser Tuesdays asks you to choose sentences at random from your current read. Identify the author and title for readers.
"When people cry for each other, it is a good thing. Always remember that and never try to suppress the tears that flow from the love in your heart.... That is the secret we were born to learn. The secret of the sweetness of tears." (ch. 2)
Title: The Sweetness of Tears: A Novel by Nafisa Haji
400 pages. William Morrow Paperbacks; Original edition (May 17, 2011)
Source: review copy from publisher.
Objective rating: 4/5

Product description: The Sweetness of Tears is a story of forbidden love and a family story that interweaves multiple generations and cultural viewpoints.

When faith and facts collide, Jo March—a young woman born into an Evangelical Christian dynasty—wrestles with questions about who she is and how she fits into the weave of her faithful family. Chasing loose threads that she hopes will lead to the truth, Jo sets off on an unlikely quest across boundaries of language and religion, through chasms of sectarian divides in the Muslim world. Against the backdrop of the War on Terror—travelling from California to Chicago, Pakistan to Iraq—she delves deeply into the past, encountering relatives, often for the first time, whose histories are intricately intertwined with her own . . . only to learn that true spiritual devotion is a broken field riddled with doubt and that nothing is ever as it seems.
My comments: I like that the story is told from several different perspectives by people from different generations:  Jo, Sadiq and Angela, Deena, and Faith. Jo's doubts about herself begin when, as a student learning biology, she realizes that the blue color of both her parents' eyes mean that her eyes should also be blue.  But her eyes are brown. Her mother's confession leads Jo on a mental and emotional journey to find out the truth about her parentage.

I believe the book is an attempt to show how East and West can connect in a positive way, how different cultures and people can live together in harmony and co-exist in peace. Jo is the symbol of this co-existence.

About the author: Nafisa Haji is the author of The Writing on My Forehead, which was a finalist for the Northern California Independent Booksellers Association Book of the Year Award. She is a Californian of Indo-Pakistani descent, born and raised in Los Angeles. Her website is http://www.nafisahaji.com/

Jun 20, 2011

Book Review: The Art of Saying Goodbye by Ellyn Bache

Title:The Art of Saying Goodbye
Author: Ellyn Bache
Paperback: 352 pages
Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks; Original edition (June 7, 2011)'
Source: review copy provided by publisher
Objective rating: 5/5

The author describes her book: "A woman in her midforties - the beautiful one with the beautiful children, the one who was always nice to everyone, the one whom all of us loved, admired, and even envied a little - was diagnosed with terminal cancer. The four main characters I invented have very different reactions to their neighbor's illness, but in each case it throws her life into perspective. And the sick woman turns out to have strengths and depths that most of the others never suspected she had.

Our friend handled her decline with a grace that amazed and humbled us, and forced us to appreciate the preciousness of our own healthy lives. In the stark glare of our shared mortality, we shed hurtful old habits and fears. We acknowledged what was really important to us." (from Ellyn Bache's note to readers).

My comments: Be prepared to be profoundly moved, even though this story is not maudlin or overly sentimental. The characters seem very real - the four neighbors of Paisley, the sick woman whom they envied in life for her good looks and her lively personality, and whom they now regard with remembered friendship, but also with pity and anxiety. They come through for her though, in different ways, and in the process, find something better in themselves. I can't say enough that's good about this novel. I loved every bit of it as I empathized, sympathized, and marveled at the plot, the realistic characters and their complex relationships.

Jun 19, 2011

Sunday Salon: Really Nice Weather

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Some really nice, sunny weather has me putting the books down and taking long drives, gardening or sitting outside watching flowers grow, chipmunks scutter, and birds hone in to the feeders or fly over my head.

I did finish The Sweetness of Tears and a couple of cozy mysteries and am now in the middle of  The Art of Saying Goodbye, a book that is surprisingly good! (Click on the links for book details). I hope to do so e reviews this coming week before our one day trip to Chicago for the Taste of Chicago Festival and the Fountain Square Art Festival. Chicago is one of my favorite cities!

Layton Green has asked me to read the ARC e-Book version of  the next in his mystery series, The Egyptian, and I hope it'll be as good as his first book, The Summoner, set in Zimbabwe.

Now for sitting outside under my new red patio umbrella. It's very cool for the middle of June, and great outdoor reading weather. I'll take "Dad" out for eats and whatever else he wants to do on his special day today!

Happy Father's Day to all the dads in your household!

Jun 14, 2011

Teaser Tuesday: A Time for Patriots: A Novel by Dale Brown

Teaser Tuesdays asks you to choose sentences at random from your current read. Identify the author and title for readers.

"They're ordering the evacuation of one hundred thousand residents of Reno," Spara went on. "The downtown part of the city is completely empty." (ch. 2)

Title: A Time for Patriots: A Novel by Dale Brown
Hardcover: 400 pages
Publisher: William Morrow (May 10, 2011)
Source: Publisher

Publisher description: When murderous bands of militiamen begin roaming the western United States and attacking government agencies, it will take a dedicated group of the nation's finest and toughest civilian airmen to put an end to the homegrown insurgency. U.S. Air Force Lieutenant-General Patrick McLanahan vows to take to the skies to join the fight, but when his son, Bradley, also signs up, they find themselves caught in a deadly game against a shadowy opponent.

With A Time for Patriots, the New York Times bestselling author Dale Brown explores a terrifying possibility—the collapse of the American Republic.

Jun 12, 2011

Sunday Salon: E-Books for Charity

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I have on my side bar, two e-Books available on Kindle and Nook and others, one to benefit the Japan Relief Fund sponsored by a group from Southern California and the other to benefit cancer research. I've bought both books on my Kindle!

The short stories on Shaken which benefit the Japanese typhoon and earthquake victims are really good! I've read about 6 of the stories so far. Several of them are about travel in Japan, Japanese poets, and the history of Japanese Americans here in the U.S. Most of the stories are written by well-known mystery writers.

Last week, I reviewed Insatiable by Meg Cabot, Night on Fire by Douglas Corleone, and Island Girl by Lynda Simmons. Reading is sporadic, as the nice summer weather makes reading hard. There is gardening, walking, the outdoors that distract!

What's on your plate this week?

Jun 10, 2011

Book Review: Insatiable by Meg Cabot


Title: Insatiable
Author: Meg Cabot
Paperback: 464 pages
Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks; Reprint edition (June 7, 2011)
Genre: fantasy, fiction
Source: review copy from publisher
Objective rating: 4.5/5

Summary: The main character, Meena Harper, writes dialogue for the television soap opera, Insatiable. She  becomes upset when the producers decide the story line should now include vampires, the current craze among young adult viewers. Little does Meena know that she is soon to meet and fall for a prince, the King of all vampires, Lucien Antonescu. Lucien is in New York City to hunt down rogue vampires who have broken his rules not to kill humans.

Lucien puts Meena and others he knows in danger during his hunt for these wayward vampires. An "ancient society of vampire hunters" is also determined to put a stake through the heart of  Lucien and all of his kind. Things get pretty exciting during the course of the novel!

Comments: I'm not normally a reader of fantasy or vampire books, but I found Insatiable very entertaining - the storytelling and writing, the characters and the engaging plot. There is enough romance to interest romance readers, action to please thriller readers, and a lot there to satisfy fantasy and vampire addicts. The author also pokes a little good humored fun at the traditional vampire romances as she spins her own tale of fantasy.

Jun 9, 2011

Book Review: Night on Fire by Douglas Corleone

Night on Fire
Night on Fire by Douglas Corleone; April 26, 2011; Minotaur Books

Location, location, location! One of the things I liked about this new legal thriller set on Oahu among lagoons, beach resorts, houses with lanai overlooking ocean and gardens, stirring sunsets. Okay, so the plot was quite good as well, and the main character, a lawyer called Kevin Corvelli, a sympathetic and kind-hearted guy, though liable to fall in love with the wrong kind of women.

A fire on the upper floors of a beach resort kills ten people. Nine die in the fire but one was found with a fatal knife wound in the stomach and gasoline accelerant in his room where the fire was started. Kevin decides to defend a woman on honeymoon who was seen and heard fighting numerous times with her new husband, the knife wound victim. All the evidence points to Erin, the young wife, as the arsonist and mass murderer. Kevin falls for her and fights for her defense, against the advice of his law partner.

Kevin also gets caught up in the life of Josh, a four year old whom he rescued from that hotel fire and whose grandmother died in the fire.

Found this four to five star read at the library. I recommend it for those who enjoy legal mysteries and thrillers and armchair travel.

Amazon link
Goodreads link

Jun 7, 2011

Book Review: Island Girl by Lynda Simmons, plus Author Interview

Title: Island Girl by Lynda Simmons
Paperback: 448 pages. Publisher: Berkley Trade; Original edition (December 7, 2010)
Genre: contemporary women's fiction
Source: review copy from author
Objective rating: 4.5 out of 5

Summary: Set on an island off the city of Toronto, the novel is about  hair stylist Ruby Donaldson, who at age 55 discovers she has Alzheimer's and makes plans for herself and her two daughters, Liz and Grace, for after she is unable to function normally. She is surrounded by friends on the island and an ex-lover who are willing to help her, though at first she refuses their advice and offers of help.

Ruby's plans are a surprise and her own plans for herself are somewhat unorthodox. She maneuvers to have her estranged daughter Liz return from Toronto to Ward Island to take care of Grace. The girls have different plans or hopes for their future.

Comments: Ruby is gutsy, overprotective of her daughters, and fiercely independent. We develop a soft spot for her as time goes on, and we get to know her daughters in their own words, as they tell their stories in the novel. I got very involved with these three personalities, richly drawn by the author. A fourth female is involved in this story, a 12-year-old girl who helps the childlike Grace to advance to more independence. The plot and characterization and the island setting make this a very worthwhile read.

Author: Lynda Simmons is a Canadian author whose first novel was Getting Rid of Rosie. She describes herself as a writer by day and a college instructor by night, who grew up in Toronto reading Greek mythology. She and her husband live in a small city outside of Toronto.

Tour: This book tour was sponsored by TLC Book Tours. Click on the link to see other stops on the tour, June 6-10.


Welcome, Lynda, and thanks for sharing the background of your book, Island Girl, with us. Can you tell us how you decided to choose Alzheimer's as the topic for this novel?

Lynda: My mother-in-law was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s fifteen years ago. A feisty little thing not five feet tall, she was the kind of woman who built backyard hockey rinks, rescued baby squirrels and made room in her home for forgotten kids. I think she would have gone on taking in those kids forever, but Alzheimer’s changed everything, slowly but steadily stealing her memories, her personality, eventually even her ability to communicate.

She’s been in care for a number of years now, and it was in the lounge of the long term facility that we met other families dealing with this devastating illness. Like strangers everywhere, we discussed the weather, the staff, and the next activity on the calendar. And sometimes, when we thought we’d found a kindred soul, we spoke in whispered tones about our own fears of this devastating illness, and our refusal to give in to the Long Goodbye. To tell the truth, it was the difference in the way the generations approached Alzheimer’s that fascinated me.

My mother-in-law’s generation, the ones who lived through the Great Depression and World War II, tend to be fatalistic about whatever life throws at them. They take a suck-it-up-and-soldier-on attitude, trusting their doctors, their government and their family to do what’s right for them. The people of my generation, on the other hand, don’t blindly trust anyone. We’re children of the revolution, after all. We want information and alternatives. And we are not at all ready to accept the Long Goodbye as our fate.

So we read, we surf the net, we drink the pomegranate juice and we do crossword puzzles. And even as we watch our loved ones disappear and pray for a cure before Big Al comes looking for us, we are certain of one thing – we want a choice in our own future.

“He never wanted this,” one woman told me, watching her husband shuffle back and forth between the nursing station and the lounge. “He wanted out long ago, but I couldn’t very well throw him in front of a subway train, could I?”

No, she couldn’t. So now this man, proud and handsome judging by the pictures the staff had put in the cubby outside his room, was reduced to diapers and mushy food and a life that would likely have ended a while ago if Big Al had been left alone with him for a few days. But that’s not going to happen so he goes on day after day, shuffling back and forth in front of that lounge.

I couldn’t help it. I had to explore this issue. Had to take a character who is strong and independent and accustomed to being in control, and thrust her headlong into a situation that takes all of that strength and control away. A character who has not made good choices in her life, a woman who has alienated lovers and friends and even one of her children, and now finds herself needing forgiveness and compassion – something she was never good at herself – from the very people she pushed away.

My research involved books and documentaries, doctors and nurses, caregivers and social workers, and most importantly, the patients themselves. And when I finally sat down to write, I started with two questions: Does Alzheimer’s grant a person instant forgiveness, a moral get-out-of-jail free card? And should you have the right to decide your own fate?

If I were writing non-fiction, I would take a stand on these questions and present facts and statistics to back up my point of view, expecting you to be swayed by my arguments when you closed the book. But Island Girl is fiction, and the purpose of fiction is not to persuade or win an argument. The purpose of fiction is to explore human nature, to present you with two people who are arguing and both are right. It’s up to you to decide who won!

You can find out more about Lynda Simmons at http://lyndasimmons.com/

Jun 6, 2011

It's Monday: What Are You Reading?

This meme is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey. What's on your shelf to read this week? Here are some on my list:

A Parfait Murder: A Mystery A La Mode
Pumped for Murder: A Dead-End Job Mystery

Eyes Wide Open: A Novel


Trader of Secrets: A Paul Madriani Novel

A Time for Patriots: A Novel

Jun 5, 2011

Sunday Salon: Four Star Books

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I was lucky in my reading last week as I read several 4.5 star books in different genres!

Insatiable by Meg Cabot, a vampire romance

Dead by Midnight: A Death on Demand Mystery

Dead by Midnight: A Death on Demand Mystery by Carolyn Hart

Island Girl
 Island Girl by Lynda Simmons, contemporary women's fiction.

I also liked Ink Flamingos: A Tattoo Shop Mystery by Karen E. Olson and Spider Web (Benni Harper Mystery) by Earlene Fowler. I had a giveaway of Secret Daughter: A Novel by Shilpi Somaya Gowda, and am doing another givaway of Lift by Rebecca K. O'Connor.

To Sketch a Thief (A Portrait of Crime Mystery)Unraveled (A Knitting Mystery)On my list to read next are Unraveled (A Knitting Mystery) by Maggie Sefton and To Sketch a Thief (A Portrait of Crime Mystery) by Sharon Pape, two new cozies published by the Penguin Group.

Finished one of the books above at the park today, sitting in gardens on a bench under a shady tree. It was very pleasant to get some reading done there.

What have you been reading lately?

Empresses of Seventh Avenue by Nancy MacDonell: Historical Novel

 Fashion in Paris and New York City during WWII   Empresses of Seventh Avenue World War II, New York City, and the Birth of American Fashion...