Friday, December 30, 2022

The Third Instinct by Kent Lester Book Review

About the Book:

A shadowy group of bio-hackers called the Firemen threaten to worsen the Covid pandemic by releasing an even more lethal version of the pathogen. But what drives the Firemen and how do their motivations relate to the wealth of the Roman Empire and to the third basic human instinct?

The answers may lie with prediction scientist Dan Clifford. Unemployed and struggling with two years of pandemic isolation, he is rebuilding both his career and personal life. His plans to propose to his adrenaline-junkie girlfriend, Rachel Sullivan, are interrupted by the FBI. Dan must connect a maze of clues from the shadowy underworld of Savannah's hacker community, to the ancient powerbrokers of Rome and in doing so, uncover a hidden agenda of big Pharma and a two-thousand-year-old battle for control of public opinion.

My Review:

Much of this novel was beyond my familiarity and understanding. Most of the terminology was foreign to me. The plot took a long time to get going. Dan going to a hacker convention and then party was not an engaging concept to get me invested in the novel.

I did find it interesting to read about many of the things hackers were inventing. I had read about the masks avoiding facial recognition software and a vendor at the hacker convention was selling such items. I was amazed at the gene editing that could be done by innovative people with just the right equipment needed. There is a ton of cutting edge technology and political intrigue ultimately included.

After a multi-page virtual reality adventure, I struggled to retain interest in the plot. It was just too far from my experience. I think this novel would appeal more to younger readers who are interested in gaming. Lester's writing style just did not appeal to me. I liked all the futuristic content but the novel in general did not appeal to me.

My rating: 3/5 stars.

About the Author:

Kent Lester writes both fiction and non-fiction. During his eclectic career, Kent has worked in the construction, photography, and computer industries. He has built single family homes, worked in the CAD/CAM construction industry, and consulted with builders on accounting and estimating software.

He currently lives in Atlanta. You can find out more at

Forge Books, 368 pages.

I received a complimentary egalley of this book from the publisher. My comments are an independent and honest review.

(My star ratings: 5-I love it, 4-I like it, 3-It's OK, 2-I don't like it, 1-I hate it.)

Thursday, December 29, 2022

A Streetcar Named Murder by T G Herren Book Review

About the Book:

When the mysterious letter arrives by courier, Valerie Cooper doesn’t know what to make of it. She’s become the beneficiary of her late husband’s estranged uncle’s will—a man she never knew—and inherited a majority partnership in the family’s company, New Orleans Fine Antiques. Valerie knows nothing about antiques, but she decides to learn the business and become an active partner. She’s also got her hands full fending off Collette, a woman who wants to sell the huge old house in the Irish Channel neighborhood Valerie and her husband painstakingly renovated.

Valerie isn’t interested in selling—but when her best friend Lauren, drags her to a costume party for the women’s Mardi Gras club, the Krewe of Athena, she stumbles over Collette’s body, a jeweled dagger sticking out of her chest. In a rush of panic, Valerie recognizes the dagger from her shop—and before she knows it, she’s become murder suspect number one.

Egged on by Lauren, she starts digging into Collette’s business dealings, and the deeper she digs, the dirtier it gets. Now all fingers are pointing at Valerie. In a desperate bid to clear her name, Valerie frantically tries to find who could have gotten hold of the dagger. But among a cadre of guests in full costume, it could be impossible to find the thief - and unmask the real killer.

My Review:

This is a really different cozy mystery. In fact it didn't seem like a mystery at all for over half the book. A murder does not happen until the second half of the book. The first half is setting up the characters and is loaded with description. I read more about the streets and buildings of New Orleans than I really cared for. There is a great deal of descriptive prose in the novel as well as long passages of character thought. Because of the structure of the first half of the book, I did not find the novel engaging at all. There was a tiny bit of suspense near the end.

I think the characters were crafted well, however. Colette comes across as a truly mean woman who any number of people would rather see dead than put up with her any longer. So there are a number of possible suspects. Valerie was a suitable heroine. It did not seem realistic that she did not know why Colette hated her. If the community was such a gossip mill as other characters indicate, it was odd she did not know the reason for hate.

This is a novel for cozy mystery readers who don't mind the murder being somewhat a minor focus of the novel as a whole. Potential readers should also like long descriptive passages about New Orleans, being immersed in the architecture and culture of the city.

My rating: 3/5 stars. 

About the Author:

T. G. Herren is the pen name of Greg Herren, an award winning author who has published over thirty-six books and over fifty short stories under various names. Herren is a long time resident of New Orleans, where every day is Anything Can Happen Day. Herren has also worked as sports/fitness journalist, an editor, and spent far too many years working in the airline industry.

Crooked Lane Books, 304 pages.

I received a complimentary egalley of this book from the publisher. My comments are an independent and honest review.

(My star ratings: 5-I love it, 4-I like it, 3-It's OK, 2-I don't like it, 1-I hate it.)

Wednesday, December 28, 2022

Death in the Margins by Victoria Gilbert Book Review

About the Book:

It’s early summer, and while Richard Muir and his dance partner, Karla, are preparing their new choreographic piece, Richard’s wife, Amy, is gathering the dance’s source materials. Based on folktales and the music of the Blue Ridge Mountains, the production is set to premiere at an old cinema that has been converted to a theater. But when dancer Meredith Fox—Richard’s former fiancĂ©—is found dead backstage, Amy is once again propelled into a murder case that threatens the careers and lives of those she loves.

After Amy teams up with Chief Deputy Brad Tucker and the sheriff’s department to discover the killer, they find that there’s no shortage of suspects: Meredith’s wealthy ex-husband, several fellow dancers, a romantically spurned accompanist, and others whom the talented but haughty dancer dismissed or betrayed over the years.

With Richard and Karla’s help, and information gleaned from locals who know a wealth of small-town secrets, Amy desperately tries to unveil the killer before the premiere. But she’s pursuing a ruthless murderer who’s willing to kill again - and who might just be waiting for Amy in the wings.

My Review:

This cozy mystery combines a little bit about books and libraries with quite a bit about theater and the dance troop. I was not so interested in the theater information. I really would have liked more about library work and books. The dance emphasis may have been because of Amy's new husband Richard, organizer of the dance production. His character was developed more in this novel.

The murder plot was good. Gilbert did a good job creating Meredith, the unlikable character who gets murdered. There are many potential suspects because Meredith had alienated so many. Some people lie initially so it is difficult for readers to figure out the villain. It is not until near the end when enough truthful information is revealed that the villain can be identified.

It is interesting Amy, the amateur sleuth, works with law enforcement, at her deputy friend's request. I liked that rather than when an amateur sleuth operates on opposition to the police. Amy and Richard experience some suspense near the end. I felt it was resolved a little too easily.

This novel is part of a series but read relatively well on its own.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

About the Author:

Victoria Gilbert, raised in the shadow of the Blue Ridge Mountains, turned her early obsession with reading into a dual career as an author and librarian. She writes both traditional and cozy mysteries. She’s also written fantasy and science fiction.

Victoria has worked as a reference librarian, research librarian, and library director. When not writing or reading, she likes to spend her time watching films or TV, gardening, or traveling. She loves animals, chocolate, and all the arts.

Crooked Lane Books, 336 pages.

I received a complimentary egalley of this book from the publisher. My comments are an independent and honest review.

(My star ratings: 5-I love it, 4-I like it, 3-It's OK, 2-I don't like it, 1-I hate it.)

Monday, December 26, 2022

Only One Lie by Audrey J Cole Book Review

About the Book:

Seattle, 1942. News of the war is interrupted by the kidnapping of young Max Ellis, heir to the wealthiest banking family on the west coast. When the boy’s parents comply with the ransom demands, the kidnapper is found dead and their son remains missing. For newlywed Vera Chandler, the story hits close to home—her husband Hugh is just six months into his job as the Ellis’s private pilot.

Within days, Hugh is deployed to the Pacific as a navy pilot, while Vera’s flying instructor and best friend joins the Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron. Left alone, her parents’ words haunt her: If you really wanted to serve your country, you wouldn’t have dropped out of nursing school.

In an exchange for a favor Vera can’t refuse, she is pulled into the Ellis family affairs by the desperate mother of the missing child. The Ellis family, Vera learns firsthand, is as dangerous as they are rich. Soon, she is in a race to save the child’s life, and it could be the only way she can save her own. 

My Review:

I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. It is a compelling story with a good combination of character development and suspenseful plot. I found Vera an engaging character. Even in childhood, all Vera wanted to be was a pilot and a detective. Now, as an adult, she finally has the opportunity to fly.

How women were involved in flying during WW II is one informative aspect of the novel. Another was the disparity in pay between men and women. And then there is the power a wealthy family could exercise, even with the police. A more subtle issue deals with relationships, such as the loyalty of family or of women in love with flying.

Vera is a great amateur sleuth. I liked her character and the strength she showed. Cole did a good job of creating deceitful and dangerous characters too. As the novel nears its conclusion, the suspense intensifies and is truly a page turner.

I have read many of Cole's novels and I think this is the best one yet. It has great characters, an engaging plot and page turning suspense. I highly recommend it.

My rating: 5/5 stars.


About the Author:

Audrey J Cole is a USA TODAY bestselling thriller author. She resides in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and two children. Before writing full time, she worked as a neonatal intensive care nurse for eleven years. She's also a pilot's daughter. You can find out more at

Rainier Publishing, 320 pages.

I received a complimentary egalley of this book from the publisher. My comments are an independent and honest review. Images used only for the purpose of this review.

(My star ratings: 5-I love it, 4-I like it, 3-It's OK, 2-I don't like it, 1-I hate it.)

Sunday, December 25, 2022

So Long Chester Wheeler by Catherine Ryan Hyde Book Review

About the Book:

Lewis Madigan is young, gay, out of work, and getting antsy when he’s roped into providing end-of-life care for his insufferable homophobic neighbor, Chester Wheeler. Lewis doesn’t need the aggravation, just the money. The only requirements: run errands, be on call, and put up with a miserable old churl no one else in Buffalo can bear. After exchanging barbs, bickering, baiting, and pushing buttons, Chester hits Lewis with the big ask.

Lewis can’t say no to a dying wish: drive Chester to Arizona in his rust bucket of a Winnebago to see his ex-wife for the first time in thirty-two years―for the last time. One week, two thousand miles. To Lewis, it becomes an illuminating journey into the life and secrets of a vulnerable man he’s finally beginning to understand. A neighbor, a stranger, and a surprising new friend whose closure on a conflicted past is also just beginning.

So Long, Chester Wheeler is an uplifting novel about looking deeper into the heart and soul to form bonds with the last people we’d expect―only to discover that they’re the ones who need it most.

My Review:

This is another touching novel from Hyde. She has the ability to draw the reader into the touching story very quickly. She has drawn the characters well. I think we all know a Chester, a grouchy man so angry at life. Lewis is a reluctant hero. His care for Chester is a lesson in tolerance and perseverance.

There are several issues Hyde explores in this novel, including accepting others when they have a different lifestyle. We also see how events in a person's life can result in frustration and anger. There is an encouragement to understand the hurt behind a grouchy personality and exercise compassion.

Hyde's writing style is clear and easy to read. This is a heart warming novel where lives are changed through relationship.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

About the Author:

Catherine Ryan Hyde is the #1 Amazon Charts and New York Times bestselling author of over forty published and forthcoming books. An avid traveler, equestrian, and amateur photographer, she shares her astrophotography with readers on her website.

Her novel Pay It Forward was adapted into a major motion picture, chosen by the American Library Association (ALA) for its Best Books for Young Adults list, and translated into more than twenty-three languages for distribution in over thirty countries. Both Becoming Chloe and Jumpstart the World were included on the ALA’s Rainbow list, and Jumpstart the World was a finalist for two Lambda Literary Awards. Where We Belong won two Rainbow Awards in 2013, and The Language of Hoofbeats won a Rainbow Award in 2015.

More than fifty of her short stories have been published in the Antioch ReviewMichigan Quarterly ReviewVirginia Quarterly ReviewPloughsharesGlimmer Train, and many other journals; in the anthologies Santa Barbara Stories and California Shorts; and in the bestselling anthology Dog Is My Co-Pilot. Her stories have been honored by the Raymond Carver Short Story Contest and the Tobias Wolff Award and have been nominated for Best American Short Stories, the O. Henry Award, and the Pushcart Prize. Three have been cited in the annual Best American Short Stories anthology.

She is founder and former president (2000–2009) of the Pay It Forward Foundation and served for more than twenty years on its board of directors. As a professional public speaker, she has addressed the National Conference on Education, twice spoken at Cornell University, met with AmeriCorps members at the White House, and shared a dais with Bill Clinton.

You can find out more at

Lake Union Publishing, 304 pages.

I received a complimentary egalley of this book from the publisher. My comments are an independent and honest review.

(My star ratings: 5-I love it, 4-I like it, 3-It's OK, 2-I don't like it, 1-I hate it.)

Friday, December 23, 2022

All the Lost Lost Places by Amanda Dykes Book Review

About the Book:

When all of Venice is unmasked, one man's identity remains a mystery . . .

When a baby is discovered floating in a basket along the quiet canals of Venice, a guild of artisans takes him in and raises him as a son, skilled in each of their trades. Although the boy, Sebastien Trovato, has wrestled with questions of his origins, it isn't until a woman washes ashore on his lagoon island that answers begin to emerge. In hunting down his story, Sebastien must make a choice that could alter not just his own future, but also that of the beloved floating city.

Daniel Goodman is given a fresh start in life as the century turns. Hoping to redeem a past laden with regrets, he is sent on an assignment from California to Venice to procure and translate a rare book. There, he discovers a city of colliding hope and decay, much like his own life, and a mystery wrapped in the pages of that filigree-covered volume. With the help of Vittoria, a bookshop keeper, Daniel finds himself in a web of shadows, secrets, and discoveries carefully kept within the stones and canals of the ancient city . . . and in the mystery of the man whose story the book does not finish: Sebastien Trovato.

You can read an excerpt here.

My Review:

This is not a page turning novel. It is one a reader must be willing to take time to be deeply immersed in two fictional worlds. Dykes is a wonderful wordsmith but verbose. Concise she is not. She takes a long time to describe a scene, to build action. This is a book to read slowly.

It may also take concentration as the plot is complex. A story from 1807 is being translated by Daniel in 1904. The relevant nature of that old story is rather obscure for a long time. Well over a third of the way into the novel, Daniel says of it, he “couldn't figure out yet how it all connected.” (158) I felt the same as Daniel.

The first part of the book did not grab me as the relationship between the two time periods eluded me. It may take time for readers to figure out the correlation between the two and the theme connecting them. The old story is one about a foundling and is without an ending. Daniel's life has not yet unfolded to its intended end. Perhaps the character in the old story and translator Daniel are both searching for their true identity and meaning in life. The author's note at the end ultimately lends insight into the plot structure and meaning. Reading that first may help in putting the two stories into proper perspective.

With respect to the novel's structure, I felt there were two stories going on competing for my attention. I would get involved in one and the would have to shift to the other. Because of that, I found it hard to be fully engaged in either one. I think a better structure would have been to have the older story be not as long and not as demanding on the reader. That way it could have been a catalyst for thought, not a competition for attention.

My rating: 3/5 stars.

About the Author:

Amanda Dykes
's debut novel, Whose Waves These Are, is the winner of the prestigious 2020 Christy Award Book of the Year, a Booklist 2019 Top Ten Romance debut, and the winner of an INSPY Award. She's also the author of Yours Is the Night and Set the Stars Alight, a 2021 Christy Award finalist. Find her online at Photo Credit: © Graham Chase

Bethany House Publishers, 400 pages.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher. My comments are an independent and honest review.

(My star ratings: 5-I love it, 4-I like it, 3-It's OK, 2-I don't like it, 1-I hate it.)

Wednesday, December 21, 2022

Doomed Legacy by Matt Coyle Book Review

About the Book

A sinister private detective agency, a shady shell corporation, and a dead friend—Rick Cahill is on his most dangerous mission yet.

Private investigator Rick Cahill has been running from his past and chasing the truth his whole life. But his past is relentless—and so is his CTE, a disease caused by repeated head traumas that has attacked his body and his mind. As his CTE progresses, he realizes that the disease not only threatens his life but also endangers his family’s wellbeing.

As Rick struggles to keep his family together, he does a favor for Sara Bhandari, a business contact. Then, Sara is murdered, and the police believe her to be yet another victim of a serial rapist who has been terrorizing greater San Diego. But Rick has reason to question their theory. Determined to find the truth at any cost, and against his wife’s warnings, he investigates on his own.

Along the way, he bumps up against a sinister private investigative agency and a shady shell corporation that may be hiding more than company secrets. As Rick digs for the truth about Sara’s death, he risks his own life and the lives of countless innocents caught in his relentless crusade. Ultimately, Rick must decide if his quest is worth the risk of losing his family forever.


My Review

This novel focuses more on the character of the PI, Rick, than it does on the investigation. Rick has had an anger problem because of his brain injuries and it is getting worse. His marriage is in jeopardy because of his uncontrolled anxiety about his daughter. He hasn't been honest with his wife about his condition. His anger threatens to harm his investigation too. Rick also seems a little dense at the beginning of this investigation although he does put the information together eventually.

This is a novel for readers who like one focusing on the character of a committed but flawed hero. It is the ninth in a series about Rick but does read relatively well on its own. There is a good exploration of the personality changes possible from repeated brain injury. Coyle's writing style is good and the pace moves along pretty well.

My rating: 4/5 stars.


About the Author

Matt Coyle is the author of the best-selling Rick Cahill crime novels. He knew he wanted to be a crime writer when he was fourteen and his father gave him the simple art of murder by Raymond Chandler. He graduated with a degree in English from University of California at Santa Barbara. His foray into crime fiction was delayed for thirty years as he spent time managing a restaurant, selling golf clubs for various golf companies, and in national sales for a sports licensing company.

Matt lives in San Diego, where he is writing his tenth crime novel. 

Oceanview publishing, 320 pages.

I received a complimentary egalley of this book from the publisher. My comments are an independent and honest review.

(My star ratings: 5-I love it, 4-I like it, 3-It's OK, 2-I don't like it, 1-I hate it.)

Tuesday, December 20, 2022

Cleopatra's Vendetta by Avanti Centrae Book Review

About the Book:

Born a goddess, Cleopatra died a prisoner. But the cobra's deadly kiss was just the beginning...

Bari, Italy, present day. Think tank Special Ops leader Timothy Stryker and his wife Angie, a self-made CEO, haven’t exactly been seeing eye-to-eye. They take a much-needed Italian holiday, but it comes to a shocking end when Angie and their daughter are kidnapped.
Still raw from the death of their infant son, Stryker is desperate to rescue Angie and reconcile their differences. As he works to locate the captors’ lair, he discovers the kidnappers are behind a string of recent assassinations and attempting another high-profile hit in only seven days. But when he learns their plans for his only remaining child, the scab on his heart tears open and blood begins to spill.
Working from inside her brutal captors’ high-security compound, Angie realizes the cabal is hiding an ancient secret using modern propaganda techniques. And as Stryker races hitmen across India, Egypt, and Greece to thwart the next assassination and save his family, he has to connect a series of deadly dots tracing all the way back to the time of Cleopatra. Ultimately, the estranged pair must shake the deeply-buried pillars of western civilization to save their four-year-old daughter from an unspeakable fate.

You can watch the book trailer here

My Review:

Centrae has given readers another action packed adventure in international intrigue enveloped in interesting historical information. I love the cutting edge technical equipment the team has, even custom made silicone masks for disguises. The characters do lots of travel and the various setting include a wealth of cultural information. I really appreciated the author note at the end, explaining historical facts and cutting edge technical feats, like creating deepfake photos and videos.

The plot has centuries old roots in the life and death of Cleopatra. I appreciated the information included about her. There are several twists and turns in the action, as well as a surprise mole hampering the work of the team. And what a thought provoking exploration of whether God is male or not.

This novel centers more on the character Stryker and his family. I like how the character of Stryker's wife is well developed in her experiences. There is a good balance of personal life and action throughout the fast paced novel.

This is another good novel from Centrae for readers who like international intrigue, adventure and suspense, interesting historical information and the latest in technology and equipment.

This is the beginning of a news series with roots in Centrae's earlier novels. You can read my reviews of VanOps: The Lost Power, Solstice Shadows, and The Doomsday Medallion.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

About the Author:

Avanti Centrae always wanted to be a writer. Her father served as a U.S. marine corporal in Okinawa, gathering military intelligence during the first decade after the Korean War and her mom was a teacher who loved antiques. She grew up haunting silver bookmobiles in the Midwest but her practical family urged her to get a degree in computer technology, which she did. Eventually, she became a Silicon Valley IT executive, but her heart wasn’t in it. Before her hair began to turn gray, she had a health scare, which forced her to face her own mortality. At the top of the bucket list was becoming a bestselling author. She decided to break free of the golden handcuffs to pursue her dream. After years of drafting, editing, and finding an agent and publisher, her debut, VanOps: The Lost Power, released as an instant Barnes and Noble Nook bestseller. It went on to win three literary awards. Solstice Shadows, VanOps #2 quickly became a #1 Amazon bestseller in the U.S. and Canada, before winning a bronze medal at the Readers' Favorite book awards and nabbing the Chanticleer Global Thrillers Genre Grand Prize. The Doomsday Medallion won Best Political Thriller in the annual contest, an Honorable Mention at the Southern California Book Awards, was a quarterfinalist in the Publisher's Weekly Booklife contest, and was a finalist in the Book Excellence Awards and in the Best Books awards. It also hit the Top 100 in the Canadian and Australian Amazon Kindle stores. Cleopatra's Vendetta also won two awards and is garnering critical acclaim. Her work has been compared to that of James Rollins, Steve Berry, Dan Brown, and Clive Cussler but her trademark blend of trademark blend of intrigue, history, science, and mystery is hers alone. When not travelling the world or hiking in the Sierra mountains, she’s writing her next breathtaking thriller in Northern California, helped by her family and distracted by her German shepherds.

Thunder Creek Press, 382 pages.

I received a complimentary egalley of this book from the publisher. My comments are an independent and honest review.

(My star ratings: 5-I love it, 4-I like it, 3-It's OK, 2-I don't like it, 1-I hate it.)

Monday, December 19, 2022

The Railway Murders by J R Ellis Book Review

About the Book:

When a film shoot on Wharfedale’s vintage railway turns into a grisly crime scene, DCI Oldroyd’s idyllic visit to the countryside with his partner Deborah is well and truly stopped in its tracks. One of the film’s stars has been shot dead in a train carriage while the cameras rolled outside. But nobody else went in―or came out. Has the killer really pulled off the perfect, impossible crime?

Scouring the victim’s past for clues, Oldroyd soon unearths a string of heartbroken lovers and a mountain of unpaid debts, each adding to the growing list of suspects. But before he can determine who the culprit is, there’s the small matter of figuring out how they did it. A potential connection to a previous tragedy offers Oldroyd a much-needed lead…

Whoever the perpetrator is, they are ruthless and determined to avoid detection, and when a railway worker starts joining the dots, they are quickly silenced―for good. But as Oldroyd gets ever closer to the truth, it’s only a matter of time before he is given a chilling warning to back off.

Perhaps Deborah should have stayed somewhere safe…

My Review:

This was a good mystery with an unusual locked room type of murder. I found Ellis' writing style straight forward and not sophisticated. There were a few oddities, such as characters addressing each other by name in almost every statement during a dialogue. That seemed odd as most people do not talk that way. Also, the police detectives laughed many times at the murder seen. I can take detectives smiling or even chuckling when coming upon a murder but laughing just did not seem right.

There is quite a bit of the story taken up with side issues, about the railroad, birds, and so on, not pertinent to the plot. As to the plot, past information comes to light late in the book, sort of out of the blue, which allows the murder to be solved quickly. Readers are precluded from figuring it out as the clues are few.

This is a good mystery for readers who don't mind distractions in the plot and an unsophisticated, straight forward writing style.

My rating: 3/5 stars.

About the Author:

John R. Ellis
has lived in Yorkshire for most of his life and has spent many years exploring Yorkshire’s diverse landscapes, history, language and communities. He recently retired after a career in teaching, mostly in further education in the Leeds area. In addition to the Yorkshire Murder Mystery series, he writes poetry, ghost stories and biography. He has completed a screenplay about the last years of the poet Edward Thomas and a work of faction about the extraordinary life of his Irish mother-in-law. He is currently working (slowly!) on his memoirs of growing up in a working-class area of Huddersfield in the 1950s and 1960s.

Thomas and Mercer, 271 pages.

I received a complimentary egalley of this book from the publisher.. My comments are an independent and honest review.

(My star ratings: 5-I love it, 4-I like it, 3-It's OK, 2-I don't like it, 1-I hate it.)

Sunday, December 18, 2022

Dead Men Don't Decorate by Cordy Abbott Book Review

About the Book:

Roberto Fratelli, proprietor of the antiques store Waited4You, is the meanest man in Marthasville, Virginia. So when he puts the business up for sale, the other merchants in town are overjoyed. And now the business has a prospective buyer: local resident and the newly elected mayor’s mom, Camille Benson, who’s thrilled at the prospect of getting into the antiques business. During a celebration in honor of Camille’s new venture, her best friend, Opal, tells her about finding a letter, purportedly from Sally Fairfax to George Washington, dated 1756, hidden under a chair in the shop. When they return to retrieve the cache, they find Roberto’s lifeless body on the floor and no letter.

Police question Ella Coleman, Roberto’s ex-wife, and discover that her current husband supplied Roberto with oh-so-faux Victorian furniture. Did the two cheat the wrong customer? Or could the murder be connected to an earlier theft of rare books from the shop—a theft Roberto never reported?

As Camille prepares to confront these questions and investigate the murder, she knows she might become the latest knock-off.

My Review:

It took a while for me to become engaged in this cozy mystery. I came to like Camille, the amateur sleuth and heroine. I appreciate her wanting to change careers, quitting her junior college teaching job to go into the antiquities business, buying the store her parents had owned years before. This aspect of Camille's character will resonate with the baby boomers for whom Abbott writes. Her friend Opal was a bit over dramatized, flinging up her arms so often. I hope she is more mature in future novels.

I appreciate all the information in the book, such as investigating whether a book is old or a forgery. I also learned quite a bit about George Washington, the letters he wrote and the ones claimed to be his but identified as frauds. All the information included did slow down the plot movement however. I liked the setting. It sounds like a nice town with lots of history.

This is a good debut effort. It will be interesting to see how the characters grow in future novels. While Camille says she has no desire to solve future mysteries, we hope she does.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

About the Author:

Proud baby boomer and dog mom, Cordy Abbott, is the author of the Old Town Antique Mystery series. She, her husband, and their Standard Schnauzer have lived in Alexandria, Virginia for over two decades. Because she enjoys everything about the city, she can’t wait to share it with readers, even a fictionalized version.
When not writing she enjoys traveling and volunteering for good causes, like American Association of University Women of Alexandria and the Delaware River and Bay Lighthouse Foundation.
She has a post-graduate certificate in Antiquities Theft and Art Crime.

Crooked Lane Books, 304 pages.

I received a complimentary egalley of this book from the publisher. My comments are an independent and honest review.

(My star ratings: 5-I love it, 4-I like it, 3-It's OK, 2-I don't like it, 1-I hate it.)

Saturday, December 17, 2022

Chaos at Carnegie Hall by Kelly Oliver Book Review


Chaos at Carnegie Hall

by Kelly Oliver

December 5 - 30, 2022 Virtual Book Tour


Agatha Christie meets Downton Abbey in the Fiona Figg and Kitty Lane Mystery series opener.

Can Fiona catch a killer and find a decent cup of tea before her mustache wax melts?

1917. New York.

Notorious spy, Fredrick Fredricks, has invited Fiona to Carnegie Hall to hear a famous soprano. It’s an opportunity the War Office can’t turn down. Fiona and Clifford are soon on their way, but not before Fiona is saddled with chaperon duties for Captain Hall’s niece. Is Fiona a spy or a glorified babysitter?

From the minute Fiona meets the soprano aboard the RMS Adriatic it’s treble on the high C’s. Fiona sees something—or someone—thrown overboard, and then she overhears a chemist plotting in German with one of her own countrymen!

And the trouble doesn’t stop when they disembark. Soon Fiona is doing time with a group of suffragettes and investigating America’s most impressive inventor Thomas Edison.

When her number one suspect turns up dead at the opera and Fredrick Fredricks is caught red-handed, it looks like it’s finally curtains for the notorious spy.

But all the evidence points to his innocence. Will Fiona change her tune and clear her nemesis’ name? Or will she do her duty? And just what is she going to do with the pesky Kitty Lane? Not to mention swoon-worthy Archie Somersby…

If Fiona’s going to come out on top, she’s going to have to make the most difficult decision of her life: the choice between her head and her heart.

My Review:

This is a historical mystery firmly established in the setting. We get a good dose of the culture of the day, like the suffragette movement, for example. There are several actual historical characters making an appearances too, such a John Edgar Hoover as a young man and Margaret Sanger smuggling contraceptives into the U.S. I appreciate the author's note at the end establishing the facts upon which the novel was built

Fiona is an interesting heroine. She is a master of disguises, even getting away with posing as a man. She otherwise does not seem to be that clever. I found Eliza, the young woman Fiona is chaperoning to be much more engaging. Eliza has studied criminology and comes up with some interesting evidence and conclusions, some of which come from her youthful exuberance.

Oliver's writing style is easy to follow and this is a good mystery for readers who like a novel deeply embedded in the culture of the day. It is part of a series and many of the characters relating to Fiona's actions do have a history with her. Nonetheless, I felt this novel read well enough on its own.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

Book Details:

Genre: Historical Cozy Mystery
Published by: Boldwood Books
Publication Date: November 2022
Number of Pages: 298
ISBN: 9781804831564
Series: The Fiona Figg Mysteries
Book Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads

Read an excerpt:

* * *

Inside, the cabin was the opposite of Hugo Schweitzer’s. Whereas the German’s room was disorderly and repulsive, this man’s berth was tidy and attractive. In fact, it hardly looked occupied. The bed was made in a neat military style. There wasn’t an article of clothing nor a personal item in sight. A faint scent of pine and citrus graced the room. Like a familiar embrace, the uniform order and pleasing smell put me at ease.

Hugo Schweitzer’s disgusting mess had allowed clues to remain hidden in plain sight. This man’s neatness required clever hiding places. Where would I hide a secret document in this room? Under the mattress? In the wardrobe? Sewn inside an article of clothing?

I crossed the room. Getting to the wardrobe was considerably easier than it had been in Schweitzer’s clutter. When I opened the wardrobe, a waft of pine and citrus caressed my nostrils again. I thought of Archie. When would I see him again?

Concentrate, Fiona. Now was not the time to behave like a lovesick schoolgirl.

Two neat suits hung on hangers, spaced apart like sentries guarding a gate. One was a uniform. A British uniform. Could this traitor be in the British army? The other was a black evening suit. Whatever the blackguard was wearing under that trench coat constituted his third and final outfit. There were no more.

Standing to attention at the bottom of the wardrobe were two tall black boots. I bent down to get a closer look. Inside a boot would make a decent hiding place.

“Looking for something?” a man’s voice boomed from behind me.

I gasped and squeezed my eyes shut tight.

If only I were wearing my maid’s costume—although what maid would be cleaning at this time of night? I should have changed into Harold the helpful bellboy. At least then I’d be dressed as a man. As it was, I was wearing a flimsy evening gown and as vulnerable as a lamb in a ship full of wolves. Did I dare turn around and face my accuser?

“Did you find it?” The voice was closer now… and softer… and familiar.

Good heavens. I whipped around and practically flew into his arms. “Archie.”

He chuckled. “I should have known I’d find you breaking into my room.” He pulled me into an embrace. “Fiona. Dear Fiona.” He kissed the top of my head.

I buried my head in his shoulder. Ahhh. The scent of pine and citrus… and those horrible Kenilworth cigarettes. The scent of Lieutenant Archie Somersby.

My heart was racing. From being scared out of my wits, or from being in Archie’s embrace, I didn’t know. “What are you doing here?”

“I could ask you the same.” He held me tighter.

“You, first.” I inhaled his familiar presence.

“I will tell you, but only because it’s necessary.” He pulled out of the embrace and held me out at arm’s length. “It’s crucial that you don’t expose me.”

“Expose you?” I had to censor my imagination. His earnest green eyes framed by those dark lashes and that wild lock of chestnut hair falling across his forehead made it deuced difficult.

“I’m on an important mission.” He fortified his countenance with a steely gaze. “You mustn’t let on that you know me. In fact, you should stay away from me.” He pulled a gold pocket watch out of his waistcoat pocket and glanced at it.

I pulled my arm out of his grip. “Does your mission involve Hugo Schweitzer?” My tone was pained, but I couldn’t help it. I wished my feelings for him weren’t so strong. After all, I hardly knew him. Still, I knew he worked for British Intelligence, despite Fredrick Fredricks’s accusations to the contrary. Afterall, who was more trustworthy? A German spy or a British soldier, an especially attractive one too?

Archie tilted his head and gave me a quizzical look. “How did you know?”

“I saw you together earlier on deck.” Without a doubt, the trench coat and fedora Archie was wearing, along with his sleek silhouette and graceful gait, were identical to those of my mysterious compatriot and Hugo Schweitzer’s clandestine companion.

He laughed. “I should have known that was you watching us.” He kissed me on the cheek. “Fiona, you’re an ace. I’ve never met a girl quite like you.” His eyes danced mischievously.

The way he was laughing, I didn’t know whether to be insulted or flattered. Wait a blooming minute. “Did you forget something?” I’d seen that amused expression before. “Why did you return to your cabin?”

“To catch you in the act, love.” Archie grinned.

“So, you saw me in the corridor?”

He raised his eyebrows and nodded. “Afraid so.”

I punched his shoulder. “And instead of saying anything, you pulled this trick?”

“I’m sorry.” He intercepted my hand and brought it to his lips. “Can you forgive me?”

I pulled out of his grip. “Only if you can tell me about Mr. Schweitzer and the chemists’ war.”

“You know I can’t do that.” He sighed. “It’s classified.”

“What does the war have to do with aspirin, the headache remedy?”

He led me to the bed, sat down, and patted the bedcover, inviting me to sit too.

My cheeks flamed. It was only then that I realized I was alone in a gentleman’s room… after midnight, no less. Dilly Knox’s words echoed through my head. “Our Fiona will do anything for King and country, don’t you know.” That only strengthened my resolve. I was on official business and not a romantic getaway.

I took a seat on the bed and tucked my gown tightly around my thighs. “You were going to tell me about aspirin?”

“You’re nothing if not persistent.” Archie smiled and put his arm around my shoulders.

I scooted to the head of the bed and out of his reach. “Aspirin?”

He shook his head. “You really are quite a girl.”

I folded my arms over my chest and glared at him.

“Righto.” His smiled faded. “Aspirin is made from a chemical called phenol.”

Phenol. I’d heard Hugo Schweitzer mention it. And phenol was in the letter from the Kaiser. The Kaiser’s letter. Should I tell Archie about the letter? Or report it to Captain Hall first? “What does phenol have to do with the war?”

“We need phenol to make trinitrotoluene.” Archie gave me a knowing look.

I gave him an ignorant stare in return. “What is trinitrotoluene?”


“The explosive?”

He nodded.

“Golly.” Still, why did it matter if aspirin and TNT shared one element? How did that affect the war? Could aspirin be turned into an explosive?

“Golly is right.” When he smiled, tiny dimples appeared at the corners of his mouth.

I had to stop myself from reaching across the bed to touch that tempting lock of wavy hair… and those dimples. Stop it, Fiona. You’re on an espionage mission and not on holiday. A holiday with Archie… how divine. Stop! Just stop.

“I’m sorry we can’t work together in the open.” He took my hand and kissed it. “But for now, I’m undercover and I have to stop Schweitzer at all costs.”

“I have a confession.” I sat on my hands to keep from touching him. “I broke into Hugo Schweitzer’s cabin.”

Archie sat up straighter. “Go on.”

“He has a briefcase full of papers and letters… in German.”

“Yes,” Archie said encouragingly.

“One of the letters was from the Kaiser.” I glanced over at him.

“I don’t suppose you can recount the letter verbatim?” He raised his eyebrows. He’d seen me do it before.

“I don’t suppose you have a pencil and paper?” I released my hands from their bondage.

Archie got up and went to the dressing table. He opened the top drawer and pulled out a sheet of paper and then withdrew a pencil from his breast pocket and held it up.

I joined him and sat down at the table.

He placed the paper on the table in front of me and handed me the pencil. “Work your magic, my love.”

My pulse quickened. Did Archie just call me my love? My cheeks warmed. With a smile in my heart, I closed my eyes and let the words form before my mind like captions across a black screen. I didn’t know what they meant, but I could see them as clearly as if I were holding the letter in my hands. I opened my eyes and began setting to paper what I had seen. My hand was flying across the page. When I finished, I scanned my reproduction and then held it up to Archie. He’d been breathing over my shoulder as I wrote, which was deuced distracting.

As he read, the grim look on his face spoke volumes. “Good God,” he gasped. “So that is what they’re up to. And the phenol plot goes all the way to the Kaiser himself.” He dropped the paper on the dressing table. “Schweitzer is siphoning off phenol from the allies on orders from the Kaiser himself.”

Siphoning off phenol. The chemical needed to make explosives. So that was the phenol plot.

The corners of his mouth turned up ever so slightly. “Fiona, you’re a genius.”

I couldn’t help but smile.

His eyes hardened. “I’ve got to stop him.” Archie’s hand trembled as he ran it through his hair. “I’ve got to stop Schweitzer.”

I gazed up at him with as much resolve as I could muster.

“You mean we’ve got to stop him.”


Excerpt from Chaos at Carnegie Hall by Kelly Oliver. Copyright 2022 by Kelly Oliver. Reproduced with permission from Kelly Oliver. All rights reserved.


Author Bio:

Kelly Oliver is the award-winning and bestselling author of three mystery series: the seven-book suspense series, The Jessica James Mysteries; the three-book middle grade series, Pet Detective Mysteries; and the four-book historical cozy series, The Fiona Figg Mysteries.

Chaos at Carnegie Hall is the latest Fiona Figg mystery, and the first to feature sidekick, Kitty Lane.

When she’s not writing novels, Kelly is a Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at Vanderbilt University.

To learn more about Kelly and her books, go to:
BookBub - @KellyOliverBook
Instagram - @KellyOliverBook
Twitter - @KellyOliverBook
Facebook - @KellyOliverAuthor


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