Review: UNNATURAL HISTORY by Jonathan Kellerman

A long time fan of Jonathan Kellerman’s Alex Delaware mysteries,I was happy to accept and read an advance copy of the next book in the series. Unnatural History is scheduled for release on February 7, 2023.

Description*

Los Angeles is a city of stark contrast, the palaces of the affluent coexisting uneasily with the hellholes of the mad and the needy. That shadow world and the violence it breeds draw brilliant psychologist Dr. Alex Delaware and Detective Milo Sturgis into an unsettling case of altruism gone wrong.

On a superficially lovely morning, a woman shows up for work with her usual enthusiasm. She’s the newly hired personal assistant to a handsome, wealthy photographer and is ready to greet her boss with coffee and good cheer. Instead, she finds him slumped in bed, shot to death.

The victim had recently received rave media attention for his latest project: images of homeless people in their personal “dream” situations, elaborately costumed and enacting unfulfilled fantasies. There are some, however, who view the whole thing as nothing more than crass exploitation, citing token payments and the victim’s avoidance of any long-term relationships with his subjects.

Has disgruntlement blossomed into homicidal rage? Or do the roots of violence reach down to the victim’s family—a clan, sired by an elusive billionaire, that is bizarre in its own right?

Then new murders arise, and Alex and Milo begin peeling back layer after layer of intrigue and complexity, culminating in one of the deadliest threats they’ve ever faced.

*As appears on Amazon.

My Review

As typical of this series, Det. Sturgis calls in his good friend, Alex Delaware, to help with a puzzling case. The victim is a young photographer of considerable means who had a fascination with the city’s homeless. Donny’s intentions were good, however may have been a key factor in his demise. He is an interesting player, identifying a variety of suspects and motives along the way, Although the pace builds as the story progresses, the level of tension and suspense seemed tamer than in other works I have read by this author. Nonetheless, a well-written and interesting read that highlights the plight of the homeless, a real-life topic many prefer to ignore.

FTC disclosure: I received an advance review copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. This has not affected the content of my review.

Review: MURDER UP TO BAT by Elizabeth McKenna

I read and enjoyed the first book in the Front Page Mystery series by Elizabeth McKenna, so I looked forward to reading this next in series. Needless to say, I was happy to accept and read an advance review copy of Murder up to Bat.

About the Book

After falling in love with the quiet lake life and a certain police detective, former Chicago Tribune reporter Emma Moore trades interviewing jocks for chasing champion cows at the county fair. As a small-town newspaper reporter, she covers local topics both big and small, but when her friend Luke is arrested for the murder of the head coach of his club softball team, she’ll need to hone her investigative skills to clear his name. Emma calls up best friend Grace for help, and together the women go up against cutthroat parents willing to kill for a chance to get their daughters onto a premier college sports team.

The game is tied with bases loaded, and murder is up to bat. Can Emma and her friends bring the heat and win the game?

My Review

In this well-written mystery, reporter-turned-amateur-sleuth Emma Moore is trying her best to figure out who killed the kids’ softball coach and why. The characters in general, and Emma in particular, are likeable and relatable. Suspects abound, from romantic entanglements to overly involved parents of the team players who are uncompromising in their determination that their children be selected for sports scholarships.  The suspect pool is slow to drain, leaving the identity of the killer a mystery until almost the end.   

I enjoyed this nicely paced mystery, with its unique backdrop and subject matter, which is likely to please fans of cozy mysteries.

FTC disclosure: I received an advance review copy from the author. This has not affected the content of my review.

For my review of The Great Jewel Robbery, the first book in the series, click here.

About the Author

Elizabeth McKenna’s love of books reaches back to her childhood, where her tastes ranged from Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys to Stephen King’s horror stories. She had never read a romance novel until her sister gave her the latest bestseller by Nora Roberts. She was hooked from page one (actually, she admits it was the first love scene).

Her novels reflect her mercurial temperament and include historical romances, contemporary romances, cozy mysteries, and dark mysteries. With some being “clean” and some being “naughty,” she has a book for your every mood.

Elizabeth lives in Wisconsin with her understanding husband and Sidney, the rescue dog from Tennessee. When she isn’t writing, reading, editing, or walking the dog that never tires, she’s sleeping.

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Review & Giveaway: DIAL M FOR MEOW by Ruth J. Hartman

As a bookwom and a confessed fan of almost all things furry, I was happy for the chance to read Dial M for Meow, a recent release by Ruth J. Hartman, and the first book in the new Bookshop Kitties Mysteries.

About the Book

When children’s book author, Christy Bailey, receives a call from her aunt Betty to help out at her bookshop, she drops everything to go. Christy packs up her two cats—Milton and Pearl, the stars of her children’s mystery books—and leaves busy Philadelphia for tiny Green Meadow, Indiana. The timing of the call is perfect, as Christy’s letch of an ex-boyfriend has just cleaned out her savings, leaving Christy with a pile of unpaid bills and a desire to start over. And what better place to do that than a charming small town in Middle America?

But when Christy reaches her aunt’s bookshop, instead of small town hospitality she finds a dead body! Even worse, her aunt is passed out in the corner, hands covered in blood. The dead woman is an old frenemy of her Aunt Betty, and while Christy knows her aunt is innocent, the local detective isn’t so sure. With Milton and Pearl prowling for clues, Christy is determined to find the real killer and clear her aunt’s name… before her story ends in tragedy!

My Review

Christy has only just arrived when a body is found in her aunt’s apartment. Predictably, she is determined to provide her Aunt’s innocence. In the course of her investigative efforts, she becomes acquainted (in some cases reacquainted) with the key players in the small town. Christy is strong willed and decidedly enamored of her real-life cats, who happen to star in her children’s books as well. With the help of friends, she discovers several persons who were quite happy to see Nan dead and buried, suspense builds, and the identify of the killer remains a mystery until almost the very end.

Overall, the story is well written. I loved the cats and their antics, but I think some of the cat-centered narrative could have been trimmed down to focus more on the mystery and its human characters and improve the overall place and flow of the book.

Cat lovers will particularly enjoy the personalities of Milton and Pearl, playful kittens who do their part in bringing the culprit to justice in what I found to be an enjoyable mystery.

FTC disclosure: I received an advance review copy of this book from the publisher. This has not affected the content of my review.

Giveaway

Enter a rafflecopter for your chance to win one of four copies of Dial M for Meow from the author.

About the Author

Ruth J. Hartman spends her days herding cats and her nights spinning mysterious tales. She, her husband, and their cats love to spend time curled up in their recliners watching old Cary Grant movies. Well, the cats sit in the people’s recliners. Not that the cats couldn’t get their own furniture. They just choose to shed on someone else’s.

Ruth, a left-handed, cat-herding, farmhouse-dwelling writer uses her sense of humor as she writes tales of lovable, klutzy women who seem to find trouble without even trying.

Ruth’s husband and best friend, Garry, reads her manuscripts, rolls his eyes at her weird story ideas, and loves her despite her insistence all of her books have at least one cat in them. See updates about her cozy mysteries at Ruthjhartman.com.

Author Links

Purchase Link – Amazon 

Review: THE GIRL WHO COUNTED NUMBERS by Rosalyn Bernstein

Time for a change in pace. A historical novel that takes you back to Israel in the 1960s and the trial of Adolf Eichmann.

About the Book

Susan Reich has spent her whole childhood in a small neighborhood near New York City, living comfortably with her father. At seventeen, she decides to turn away from the neatly plotted out life ahead of her and confronts her father about taking a gap year. The two are at odds until he proposes a way for them to both get what they want: Susan can postpone college so long as she spends her gap year abroad in Israel searching for her long-lost uncle.

The Girl Who Counted Numbers is the story of an independent, Jewish-American girl who leaves for Israel to solve a family mystery. The hunt for any evidence of her uncle takes her to unexpected places where she must confront parts of the past she never knew. With the infamous Adolf Eichmann trial happening in the backdrop of The Girl Who Counted Numbers, Susan begins unraveling these complex layers of history and is drawn into the tense political climate of a post-Holocaust Israel. As she gets more and more involved in the struggles of her Israeli and Jewish-Moroccan friends, she explores awakening emotions and discovers her own interest in truth, justice, and activism.

The book is available on Amazon.

My Review

Susan in no hurry to start college so her father decides to send her to Israel to try to find out what became of his older brother who remained in Poland after the rest of the family had migrated to New York before World War II.

This novel takes the reader back in time to Israel in the 1960s. A time when refugees from all over the world were establishing their homes here. A very complicated time period. The cultural divide between the Ashkenazi (European) immigrants and the immigrants from non-Ashkenzi (e.g., Moroccan, Egyptian, Yemenite) backgrounds was a real thing. The author does an excellent job conveying the plight of Morrocan Jewish immigrants – the rampant prejudice they faced and their economic plight. At the same time, the book highlights the Eichmann trial and the atrocities inflicted on Europe’s Jewish population. To this American who first visited Israel in 1974, the backdrop rang true. The setting and history were clearly well researched by the author.

Susan’s journey is an interesting one – she learns a lot about Israel, the Jewish people, and herself as she is exposed to both sides of the cultural divide. She is bright, open-minded, and able to identify with the plight of the Morrocans she meets. She is also moved by the holocaust survivors’ testimonies broadcast daily on the radio. Finding information about her uncle’s fate is no easy task. But in the end, the truth is revealed, bit by bit, with more than a few surprises in store.

FTC disclosure: I received a review copy of this book from the publisher. This has not affected the content of my review.

About the Author

In 1961, author Roslyn Bernstein spent 7 months in Jerusalem. She was present during part of the Adolf Eichmann Trial—often cited as the event that sparked public awareness of the atrocities committed during the Holocaust— and listened to the stories of immigrants and survivors and daydreamed about their meanings. Her trip was a source of inspiration for The Girl Who Counted Numbers. Susan’s story, while fictional, is heavily influenced by real issues of politics, history, and identity that permeated Israel in the aftermath of the Holocaust and even today. The Girl Who Counted Numbers is a nuanced, thrilling tale about discovering a past and confronting one’s identity.

Spotlight, Review & Giveaway: THE DOC’S HOLIDAY HOMECOMING by Virginia McCullough

Time for a chance of pace. I took a break, albeit a short one, from my usual mystery fare. Today’s post features a contemporary (and clean) romance, The Doc’s Holiday Homecoming is the second book in the Back to Adelaide Creek series by Virginia McCullough.

About the Book

Could her closed heart…

Still have room for him?

Olivia Donoghue’s life has turned a corner. The radiologist’s eleven-year-old daughter is finally healthy, and she just moved to her best friend’s dreamy hometown of Adelaide Creek, Wyoming. If only her friend’s prodigal brother, Jeff Stanhope, wasn’t complicating matters.

It’s clear Jeff’s kindness knows no bounds, having taken in his late roommate’s teenage son and also offering her a cabin to stay in, but Olivia’s heart is already full…and safe. Is the former rancher worth the risk?

Giveaway

Enter a rafflecopter for your chance to win a $50 ETSY gift card from the author.

My Review

In this wholesome romance, Jeff returns to his hometown after a long absence and self-imposed alienation from his sister. He soon meets her best friend, Olivia, and is drawn into the push-pull dynamic typical of a romance. What sets this story apart is a strong underlying theme – giving. The make up of Jeff’s and his sister’s families is atypical – they have willingly taken on the love and care of children not biologically their own. All of the main characters are generous and loving.

Overall, the book was well written and well-paced though, in the first chapter, the introduction of so many characters at the same time was a bit confusing. Hang in there; everything soon sorts itself out. You will soon become immersed in Jeff’s and Olivia’s tale as it winds its way to a happy ending.

FTC disclosure: I received an advance review copy from the publisher. This has not affected the content of my review.

About the Author

Virginia McCullough is thrilled to share her eighth Harlequin Heartwarming release with readers. The Doc’s Holiday Homecoming, available November 29th, is the second book in her Back to Adelaide Creek series. Like all of Virginia’s romances, this holiday story comes straight from the heart and features characters who could be your neighbors and friends struggling with everyday life issues.

Born and raised in Chicago, Virginia spent years as a ghostwriter, producing more than one hundred books for physicians, business owners, professional speakers and many others with information to share or a story to tell. She’s moved around a lot, and a few years ago she landed in Green Bay, Wisconsin, where she enjoys hanging out with other romance writers, walking on trails, and downing mugs of dark roast at local coffeehouses. Her other award-winning romance and women’s fiction titles include The Jacks of Her Heart, Amber Light, and The Chapels on the Hill. Virginia is always working on another story about hope, healing, and second chances.

Connect with Virginia online:

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Review: EXERCISE IS MURDER by Bruce Hammack

Exercise is Murder. Well, I think so, too. That might be why this title caught my eye. Of course, it’s not really about exercise. Instead, this first book in the Smiley and McBlythe Mystery series by Bruce Hammack features an unlikely team investigative duo, a blind homicide detective and his new partner.

Description*

Found at the bottom of his exercise pool, police believe the death of Steve Smiley’s friend is an accident. Smiley doesn’t buy it.

There are a lot of things a blind man can do, but solve a murder alone isn’t one of them. He needs a partner… one who knows their way around a crime scene. In walks Heather McBlythe. She can help him solve the crime, but can she keep him out of danger? Steve doesn’t have a choice. Without her someone will get away with murder.

Armed with years of experience as a homicide detective and his new partner, Smiley sets out to find a killer. He knows he’s on the right trail when a bullet whizzes past his ear. Will Steve resurrect his life as a master crime solver, or will his sleuthing get them both killed?

*Description and cover from Amazon

My Review

This mystery features a blinded homicide detective Steve Smiley who teams up with a new partner, Heather McBlythe, to investigate the suspicious death of a friend.  The pair are interesting as characters and make an unusual team, a twist in and of itself.  Despite their many differences (he dislikes cats, for one), they work well together as they doggedly investigate every aspect of the case, and the banter between them is humorous and provides insight into their personalities. The murder mystery itself was a good one, with the requisite twists and turns en route to a satisfying resolution.  An enjoyable, well-paced read. 

Tip:  The last time I checked this book was free on Amazon.

Review: SHE’S GONE by David Bell

So I read a lot of mysteries, usually cozies or thrillers. No news there. However, this time I was surprised to find myself engrossed in a new YA mystery – She’s Gone by David Bell, which released earlier this month.

Description*

When a girl disappears, who do you suspect?

When 17-year-old Hunter Gifford wakes in the hospital on the night of homecoming, he’s shocked to learn he and his girlfriend, Chloe Summers, have been in a terrible car accident. Hunter has no memory of the crash, and his shock turns to horror when he is told Chloe’s blood has been found in the car—but she has disappeared.

Back at school, his fellow students taunt him, and his former best friend starts making a true-crime documentary about the case—one that points the finger directly at Hunter. And just when things can’t get any worse, Chloe’s mother stands in front of the entire town at a candlelight vigil and accuses Hunter of murder.

Under mounting pressure from the police, Hunter takes matters into his own hands by questioning anyone who might know the truth and posting videos to prove his innocence. When Hunter learns he and Chloe were seen arguing loudly outside the dance, he faces a sickening possibility. Was he angry enough to kill the person he loved?

*As appears on Amazon.

My Review

After a terrible car accident, Hunter faces accusations which he honestly has no way of proving or disproving. He doesn’t want to believe he might have hurt Chloe but he simply doesn’t remember the events leading up to the crash. A pretty level-headed teenager, he is a likable character and it’s easy to sympathize with his plight and his emotions. He may want to do the right thing, but he is a teenager after all, and in his efforts to root out the truth some of his actions are ill-advised, impulsive, risky. His sister and sometimes partner-in-crime is delightful, a bit snarky, and totally loyal.

The story is told entirely from Hunter’s point of view in an easy to read style that puts the reader in touch with his thoughts and feelings. The writer’s style in this novel is well suited to both teen and adult audiences. The plot was well-placed, building in intensity as the story progressed and Hunter comes closer to discovering the truth. The novel was intriguing enough to keep those pages turning.  Like Hunter, I had to know what happened to Chloe.

Content advisory: This novel includes light description of sex between teens (not erotic at all) and profanity, thus may not suit those seeking “clean” reads.

FTC disclosure: I received an advance review copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. This has not affected the content of my review.

Review: SUSPECT by Scott Turow

What draws you to a book? Well for me, first off – the cover. And this one definitely caught my eye. Then when I saw the author’s name and the description, I knew I wanted to read it. Hot off the presses, Suspect released last week.

Description*

For as long as Lucia Gomez has been the police chief in the city of Highland Isle, near Kindle County, she has known that any woman in law enforcement must walk a precarious line between authority and camaraderie to gain respect.  She has maintained a spotless reputation—until now. Three male police officers have accused her of soliciting sex in exchange for promotions to higher ranks. With few people left who she can trust, Chief Gomez turns to an old friend, Rik Dudek, to act as her attorney in the federal grand jury investigation, insisting to Rik that the accusations against her are part of an ugly smear campaign designed to destroy her career and empower her enemies—both outside the police force and within…
 
Clarice “Pinky” Granum spent most of her youth experimenting with an impressive array of drugs and failing out of various professions, including the police academy. Pinky knows that in the eyes of most people, she’s nothing but a screwup—but she doesn’t trust most people’s opinions anyway. Moreover, she finally has a respectable-enough job as a licensed P.I. working for Rik on his roster of mostly minor cases, like workman’s comp, DUIs and bar fights. Rik’s shabby office and even shabbier cases are a far cry from the kinds of high-profile criminal matters Pinky became familiar with in the law office of her grandfather, Sandy Stern. But Rik and Pinky feel that Chief Gomez’s case, which has attracted national attention, is their chance to break into the legal big leagues.    
 
Guided by her gut instinct and razor-sharp investigative skills, Pinky dives headfirst into a twisted scandal that will draw her into the deepest recesses of the city’s criminal networks, as well as the human mind. But she will need every scrap of tenacity and courage to unravel the dark secrets those closest to her are determined to keep hidden.

*Cover and description as they appear on Amazon.

My Review

Although I have read several of this author’s previous works, this book caught me by surprise. The main character, Pinky, is a somewhat flaky young PI, with a nail through her nose and tatoos galore. Pinky is working in the family law office, where her boss is defending a female police chief who has been accused of forcing male officers to have sex with her. Despite her quirks, Pinky’s investigative instincts are good – even if her methods are a bit untraditional. And she lacks impulse control. She just does whatever comes to mind (not always realistic). Pinky is excited about the case and intrigued by her new neighbor, handsome of course, and does her best to investigate both at the same time.

It took me a while to warm up to Pinky (I cringed at every mention of that nail) and to get into the story. I also had trouble relating to Lucy (the alleged sex offender) not so much because of her actions in the past, but more because of her attitude and demeaner. Once I got further into the story, I enjoyed the book more as the plot took a circuitous route to its resolution, with more than one surprise in store for the reader. Overall, an engaging read that spotlights issues related to gender and law enforcement in today’s world.

FTC disclosure: I received an advance review copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. This has not affected the content of this review in any way.

Review: SUMMER CAMP CULPRIT by C.K. Fyfe

For those of us who went to summer camp, it is easy to look back at those days through rose-colored glasses. Nostalgia for times gone by and sweet memories. But not all memories are sweet, as soon becomes apparent in Summer Camp Culprit, a romantic cozy mystery novella by C.K. Fyfe.

About the Book

Camp Starfall is closing. But that doesn’t mean the past is going with it.

Despite her misgivings, Lindsey returns to the campground she last left as a broken-hearted teen. She’s determined to spend Camp Starfall’s farewell weekend focusing on the good memories she has of her time as a camper. But fate has other plans.

Lindsey’s teenage sweetheart Tyler shows up, stirring up feelings in her that had long lain dormant. Too bad she doesn’t have time to dwell on him. Someone is breaking into the cabins, and if she doesn’t find the culprit, more than her heart will be at stake.

My Review

A visit to the summer camp she attended in her youth gives Lindsey the chance to reconnect with friends from her past, as well as get closure with respect to a painful memory from her last summer at the camp. I found it easy to identify with Lindsey and her misgivings. The story is sprinkled with a mixture of reminiscing, humor, and flashbacks to antics and events of the past. But something sinister is going on and Lindsey seizes on the opportunity to out the culprit, put her own demons to rest, and lay the foundation for new beginnings. This well written novella was ideal for a quick escape while travelling.

FTC disclosure: I received an advance review copy from the publisher. This has not affected the content of my review in any way.

About the Author

C.K. Fyfe has always enjoyed a good mystery. Fyfe’s childhood love of Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys led to a grown-up love of writing cozy mysteries with quirky, funny, and kindhearted characters. Fyfe lives in “The Wolverine State.” Much like wolverines, Fyfe’s villains have vicious dispositions, but the clever sleuths know how to tame their foes’ tempers.

Author Links

Review: LOVES BILLIONAIRES AND DOGS by Gina Robinson

In the mood for another feel-good romance? I sure was. Penned by an author new to me, this one didn’t disappoint. I’ll be adding the next in series to my TBR list.

Description*

Hot billionaire asks me for a fake relationship. ✓
He doesn’t recognize me as the runaway bride he helped escape in Vegas two years ago. What happens when he does…

Once upon a time in Vegas, I left my groom at the altar in a twenty-four-hour discount wedding chapel. And ran away with my bridal bouquet — the most adorable Corgi puppy you’ve ever seen.

In a nearby casino, a gorgeous stranger with blue-violet eyes helped me escape. An unforgettable stranger I’ve been thinking about nonstop for the past two years, but thought I’d never see again.

Until his handsome Aussie in a studded leather collar finds my little Corgi bitch in the park — irresistible, alone, and in heat…

*As appears on Amazon

My Review

Both main characters are likable and the banter between them entertaining. The narrative alternates between Shelby’s and Dex’s points of view – making clear their respective feelings and reservations as their relationship progress. And there are great dogs and humorous situations. Although there was perhaps a bit more detail on the mechanics of dog breeding than necessary, this was a quick, enjoyable read. Overall, a feel-good romance – as advertised – that makes for an enjoyable escape.