Mystery Mayhem

steeped in evilThe Tea Shop Mysteries follow Theodesia Browning, the young and beautiful owner of a tea shop in Charleston who seems to have a knack for stumbling on dead bodies and getting embroiled in solving the mysteries of their deaths.  She is aided by the stodgy and proper Drayton (her tea master), the young and quirky Haley (her chef/baker), while running up against the gruff Detective Tidwell.

In Steeped in Evil, Theodesia leaves behind her normal beverage to attend a wine-tasting at the Knighthall Winery, but the party quickly comes to an end when a dead body is found in a wine barrel.  The dead body belongs to the son of the vineyard’s owner, Jordan Knight.  Dissatisfied with the police investigation, Jordan turns to Theodesia for her help.  With everyone lying, someone has to be hiding something, and Theodesia will inevitably solve the puzzle!

The setting is beautifully described, as is the food prepared each day for the tea shop, and both make me want to head to Charleston simply for tea.  I want to put on a fancy dress and a big hat, wander through the quaint shops in Charleston, and have some afternoon tea.

Title: Steeped in Evil
Author: Laura Childs
Genre: Fiction, Mystery
Pages: 320
Publication: Berkley Hardcover, March 2014

blackberry pieThe Hannah Swensen Mysteries follow Hannah, the owner of The Cookie Jar, a cookie shop in Minnesota.  As she stumbles on dead bodies, and gets caught up in solving the mysteries, she is joined by a cast of supporting characters – her mother, sister, co-worker, and of course – the two men she can’t seem to choose between.

In Blackberry Pie Murder, Hannah actually causes the death when she happens to hit someone on the road during a storm.  Worried about whether she will be arrested, and trying to plan her mother’s wedding, Hannah dives into discovering the identity of the dead man and what he was doing there.

Unfortunately, this series is getting a little dull.  The recipes were the best part of the book.  Hannah’s indecision about Norman and Mike is tired, and the ending was not an ending or a cliffhanger – just a pause in the story.  Probably it’s supposed to inspire people to run out and buy the next book when it comes out, but I’m not sure it worked.

Title: Blackberry Pie Murder
Author: Joanne Fluke
Genre: Fiction, Mystery
Pages: 368
Publication: Kensington, February 2014

killer physiqueThe Savannah Reid Mysteries follow plus-size California PI Savannah Reid, a former police officer and owner of Moonlight Magnolia Detective Agency.  With assistance from a great supporting cast which includes her new husband Dirk, her employee Tammy, and her friends John and Ryan, along with her seemingly endless Southern family members.

In Killer Physique, newlyweds Savannah and Dirk attend a movie premier with John and Ryan.  When the leading man, and John & Ryan’s friend, is found dead in his hotel room the initial evidence points to death due to doping.  Unbelieving, Savannah and Dirk promise John & Ryan that they’ll get to the bottom of things.  Meanwhile, Savannah desperately tries to get ready for the first meeting with Dirk’s birth parents.

Another fun installment in this series, the mystery was engaging and it’s interesting to watch Dirk & Savannah trying to settle into their new married life.  I did miss Granny, maybe she’ll be around next time…

Title: Killer Physique
Author: G.A. McKevett
Genre: Fiction, Mystery
Pages: 320
Publication: Kensington, March 2014

by its coverThe Commissario Guido Brunetti novels follow the Venetian Commissario as he delves into crimes in a city full of corruption.  With an idiotic and useless boss, an inventive and talented secretary, and several steadfast and talented officers, Brunetti always finds the answers, even when they are difficult to accept or understand.  More than a simple mystery, these novels are about human nature and the intricacies and contradictions that lie in all of us.

In By Its Cover, Brunetti is called to a private Venetian research library.  Someone has been stealing rare books and cutting illustrations out of valuable texts.  The suspect is an American researcher who disappeared shortly before the thefts were discovered.  But when a patron of the library who was a former priest and a theologian is found murdered, Brunetti must delve deeper to find the answers.

The Brunetti novels are among my favorite mystery series, and this one took place in a library, so I have little to complain about!  It did seem short on character interaction which I have loved in the previous books.  The interactions and discussions between Brunetti, his wife, his children, his in-laws, and his co-workers have always been central in contemplating, and struggling to understand, life, crime and human nature.  Hopefully they will be back in Brunetti’s next installment.

Title: By Its Cover
Author: Donna Leone
Genre: Fiction, Mystery
Pages: 288
Publication: Atlantic Monthly Press, April 2014

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The Troubles Trilogy

The Troubles Trilogy by Adrian McKinty is a series of detective novels set in the author’s hometown during the same time period as his childhood – the early 1980s in Northern Ireland.  They follow the career and cases of Sean Duffy, a Catholic police detective working for the Protestant Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) in Carrickfergus (near Belfast), who is torn between the two warring factions.  Each novel tells the story of a specific detective case, but the backdrop of the violence in Northern Ireland adds historical interest, complications, and increasing danger for Duffy.  Well-written and fast paced, these books are the best of the police detective genre and I find myself extremely disappointed that the author decided to end this series as a trilogy!

cold cold groundIn The Cold Cold Ground, Duffy is investigating a case in which two gay men have been murdered, their right hands severed and switched.  The severing of the right hand is a classic sign of a killed informant, but Duffy suspects it’s the diversionary tactic of a serial killer until no other gay men turn up dead.  Were they informants?  Was one murder committed to cover up the other?  Is the IRA involved somehow?  Even when the case is reassigned, Duffy persists, facing corruption on all levels in his efforts to get to the truth and find his own brand of justice.  The background stories of the Hunger Strikes, the royal wedding, and the shooting of the Pope and context and interest, reminding me of headlines news stories when I was a kid, but showing me the reality of their impacts for those living and surviving in Northern Ireland.

Title: The Cold Cold Ground
Author: Adrian McKinty
Genre: Fiction, Mystery
Pages: 320
Publication: Seventh Street Books, November 2012
sirens in the streetIn I Hear the Sirens in the Street, a headless torso found in a suitcase is the latest case puzzling Detective Inspector Sean Duffy.  When the body is identified as an American veteran, poisoned by a rare plant, Duffy ends up on the doorstep of a beautiful widow whose husband owned the suitcase before he was murdered, apparently by an IRA assassination team.  But things get more interesting when the detective who investigated the husband’s death is suddenly murdered.    Suddenly, unable to let it go, Duffy finds himself caught in the middle of a political nightmare between the IRA, the FBI, and M15.  Who’s doing the killing?  Why?  And can Duffy survive solving the case?  In the background, things in Northern Ireland are heating up as the British pull back troops that are supporting the police force to support invade the Falkland Islands.

Title: I Hear the Sirens in the Street
Author: Adrian McKinty
Genre: Fiction, Mystery
Pages: 320
Publication: Seventh Street Books, May 2013

12book "In the Morning I'll be Gone" by Adrian McKinty.

In In the Morning I’ll Be Gone, Sean Duffy, demoted and ready to be run out of the force completely, gets a break.  When his childhood friend, Dermot McCann, an IRA leader and an explosives expert, breaks out of prison M15 recruits Duffy to find him.  If he can, they will clear things with the RUC, getting him his old job back.  When he finds Dermot’s mother-in-law she promises Duffy a lead – but only if he can solve the mystery of her daughter’s death first.  She’s convinced that what appears to be an accidental death is actually a locked-room murder, and she wants to know who killed her daughter.  It seems like even Sean Duffy won’t be able to figure it out.  And if he does will she lead him to Dermot?  And will it be in time?  And in the end what will it all mean?  And of course, Margaret Thatcher is due in Brighton to give a speech at the Conservative Party Conference…

Title: In the Morning I’ll Be Gone
Author: Adrian McKinty
Genre: Fiction, Mystery
Pages: 315
Publication: Seventh Street Books, March 2014

Mystery Mayhem

Here’s a quick look what’s new in some of my favorite mystery series!

killerThe Alex Delaware novels follow psychologist Alex Delaware as he dives into criminal minds to assist L.A. police lieutenant Milo Sturgis.  In this latest installment, Killer, Alex is called on by the courts to provide a recommendation in a custody battle.  Connie Sykes is trying to take custody of her sister’s 16-month old baby but the wealthy physician turns cold and violent when she loses her case.  With bodies piling up, the baby and her mother missing, Alex and Milo are in a race to find the culprits and the missing child.

I always enjoy these novels, and this one was no exception.  Oddly, although I like Alex Delaware, he is one of the least interesting characters for me – must be my love of quirkiness!   Milo, a large, gay, gruff detective is endearing in spite of his brusqueness.  And the introduction of a former child patient of Alex’s, now leading a gang in Oakland, is touching and sweet and funny and sad.

Title: Killer
Author: Jonathan Kellerman
Genre: Fiction, Mystery
Pages: 352
Publication: Ballantine Books, February 2014

accusedThe Rosato & Associates novels follow Bennie Rosato and her law offices, composed of all female attorneys, as they try to right wrongs.  In this latest installment, Accused, Mary Dinuzio has been made a partner in the firm and her first client is Allegra, a beekeeping 13-year old obsessed with reopening the six-year old case of her sister’s murder.  The killer confessed and is behind bars, but Allegra is convinced that he’s innocent.  Unfortunately, her family is wealthy and powerful, convinced that Allegra has emotional and mental issues, and does not want to see the case reopened.  With little support from the firm, Mary will have to go out on her own to ensure that justice has been served.

All of the characters in the firm are unique and interesting, with their own distinct personalities and strengths.  This novel in the series focuses mainly on Mary as she struggles with being a partner, changes in her romantic life, and her overbearing but endearing super stereotypical Italian family.  I like Mary, who has an inner strength she does not recognize, and her fantastically funny family, but I missed seeing more of the other members of the firm.  Still, it was a fun, fast read with enough twists and turns to keep things interesting.

Title: Accused
Author: Lisa Scottoline
Genre: Fiction, Mystery
Pages: 368
Publication: St. Martin’s Press, October 2013

death overdueThe Librarian Mysteries follow mid-Western librarian Karen Nash and her romantic interest, British B&B owner Caldwell.  Another fun cozy mystery series that has the added benefit of being about books!  In this latest installment, Death Overdue, the victim is Caldwell’s ex-girlfriend, Sally, killed by a toppling bookshelf after announcing her intent to take half of the proceeds from the sale of the B&B.  Since Karen and Caldwell are hoping to use that money to pursue their dream of opening their own bookshop, Caldwell quickly becomes the main suspect.  But with Sally’s Italian lover, her fed-up sister, and an out-of-town book scout hanging around, Karen knows it has to be someone other than the new love of her life.  This is a fun, quiet, cozy mystery series.  Not a ton of action, but a lot of talking and drinking tea and trying to figure out whodunit.  A great way to spend a wintry afternoon.

Title: Death Overdue
Author: Mary Lou Kirwin
Genre: Fiction, Mystery
Pages: 256
Publication: Gallery Books, November 2013

due or dieThe Library Lover’s Mystery series follows Lindsey, the new director of the public library on the coast of Connecticut in Briar Creek, and of course, the murders that seem to pop-up on a regular basis there!

In the second book in the series, Due or Die, cranky Bill Sint is voted out as president of the Friends of the Library, being replaced by Carrie Rushton, a forward-thinking volunteer.  When she comes home from the election to find her husband shot dead in his recliner, she quickly becomes the main suspect.  And as a nor’easter paralyzes the town, Lindsey and her friends will have to figure out whodunit while the local police force focuses on digging out.

Like the previous book in this series, there are plenty of great characters including a mentally unstable woman who wants to see Bill Sint reinstated as president, Bill’s charming nephew who is pursuing Lindsey, the cranky librarian, the charter boat captain who seems to have a crush on Lindsey, and all of Lindsey’s friends and neighbors.  These characters and their interactions and relationships make this a thoroughly enjoyable series.  I also love all of the library scenes – the programming, the patrons, the politics – they all feel so familiar on some level!

Title: Due or Die
Author: Jenn McKinlay
Genre: Fiction, Mystery
Pages: 304
Publication: Berkley, March 2012

Mystery Mayhem

Here’s a quick look what’s new in some of my favorite mystery series!

billionaire blendThe Coffeehouse Mystery novels follow Claire Cosi, the owner of The Village Blend, a coffeehouse in New York City which she owns with her wealthy world-traveler ex-husband Matteo, having formerly been owned and run by her mother-in-law.  Claire is constantly stumbling into dangerous situations or finding dead bodies.  Much to the chagrin of her cop boyfriend Mike she sticks her nose into the authority’s business, trying to solve the latest murder.

In this latest installment, Billionaire Blend, a car bomb goes off outside of The Village Blend, killing the driver while the owner is in the coffeehouse talking to Claire.  The car happens to belong to a young tech-billionaire who wants Claire to create an exclusive coffee, affordable only by the ultra-rich.  Claire is soon drawn into the world of the wealthy, being flown around the world and taken to the most exclusive clubs.  More interestingly, she finds herself in the middle of corporate intrigue, cut-throat rivalries, and sibling jealousies.  Of course, in the end, it will all work out!

This is a fun series with little surprises but enjoyable characters.  Claire’s relationship with her ex-husband is interesting, old emotions wrapped up in a new type of partnership.  Madame, Claire’s mother-in-law, is a classy lady with a colorful history.  Mike and Claire struggle in their relationship at times, adding a dose of reality.  And Claire also struggles with motherhood to her adult child, Jill, balancing being there with learning to let go.  To top it all off there are recipes!  And I love recipes, even if I never actually make them!

Title: Billionaire Blend
Author: Cleo Coyle
Genre: Fiction, Mystery
Pages: 400
Publication: Berkley, December 2013

books can be deceivingThe Library Lover’s Mystery novels is a cozy mystery series that I discovered recently.  It’s a fun mystery series, and it’s for library lovers, so how can it be bad?  🙂  The series follows Lindsey, the new director of the public library on the coast of Connecticut in Briar Creek, and of course the mysteries that seem to pop-up on a regular basis there!

In the first book in the series, Books Can Be Deceiving, Lindsey’s best friend and the children’s librarian, Beth, becomes the chief suspect in a murder.  When Beth tries to talk to a New York publisher about the children’s book she’s been working on she discovers that her boyfriend and Caldecott award winner, has stolen her ideas.  When she and Lindsey go to confront him what they find is his dead body.  Will Lindsey be able to figure out who did it before Beth is thrown behind bars?

Being the director of a small public library I enjoyed the way that the story revolved around this small library and its staff.  The characters are delightful, from the stern and cranky Ms. Cole who hates anything new and is constantly disapproving of Lindsey, to the supportive group at the Crafternoon Club at the library – a group of lively characters that share books, food, and crafts.  I am definitely looking forward to spending more time with the group from Briar Creek and seeing how this series matures.

Title: Books Can Be Deceiving
Author: Jenn McKinlay
Genre: Fiction, Mystery
Pages: 304
Publication: Berkley, July 2011

murder as a second languageThe Claire Malloy Mystery novels follow Claire Malloy, a bookstore owner in a small college town, where she lives with her teenage daughter Caron.  Constantly stumbling into trouble, Claire also always seems to stumble upon the answer, much to the annoyance of her beau, Deputy Chief Peter Rosen.

In the latest installment, Murder as a Second Language, Claire has recently married Peter and moved to a beautiful house outside of town.  With the bookstore being run by hired help, and Caron busy being a teenager, Claire suddenly finds herself with time on her hands.  When she agrees to help out at an ESL tutoring center, she is pushed into being on the board which faces budgetary issues and accusations of embezzlement.  When an elderly Russian student, who is strongly disliked by most people at the literacy center, is found dead by the copier, Claire is back in the thick of it again.  Only this time Peter may actually want her help.

I found this book in the series to simply be ok, not great.  Claire’s overly bratty teenage daughter is starting to get on my nerves, and Claire actually started to in this book.  Maybe it’s because I have to work and there are a million things I would do with my days if I didn’t, but I found her “Woe is me, I have nothing to keep my occupied” attitude to be grating.  I liked her better when she was living in her crappy apartment, trying to make ends meet, and running her bookstore.  It will be interesting to see where her character goes from here…  And Caron?  Hopefully she goes far away to college…

Title: Murder as a Second Language
Author: Joan Hess
Genre: Fiction, Mystery
Pages: 304
Publication: Minotaur, December 2013

takedown twentyThe Stephanie Plum novels follow the bumbling bounty hunter through the streets of Trenton, New Jersey as she unsuccessfully tries to catch the latest skip.  With ex-prostitute Lulu and the wild and unpredictable Grandma Mazur helping her out, it’s a wonder she has trouble!  And of course there is a love triangle with both the hunky and secretive security guru Ranger and the gorgeous police detective Morelli both on the scene to get her out of trouble.

In this latest installment, Takedown Twenty, Stephanie is on the trail of a mob boss that was arrested for running someone over (several times) but no one will tell her where he is.  To make matters worse, he’s Morelli’s actual godfather, causing his grandmother Bella to give Stephanie the evil-eye for trying to catch him.  And Ranger’s around too – asking Stephanie to help him track down the killer of a client’s elderly mother – which will require spending some time with Grandma Mazur at the bingo halls.  Oh, and did I mention that there’s a giraffe named Kevin running around loose throughout the streets of Trenton?

I have always loved this series, it is the only set of books that consistently makes me laugh out loud while reading.  Unfortunately, they don’t make me laugh quite as much as they used to…  The stories have become too formulaic, there are no surprises, just different versions of the same antics.  And honestly I’m getting really tired of the whole Ranger vs Morelli thing.  Grow up and make a decision and move on already!  Or at least have something interesting happen between them all!  Having shared my frustrations with the recent books in the series, I still need to be fair and say that I did laugh out loud, and it was still a fun and fast read.  I just know it could be (and should be) better…

Title: Takedown Twenty
Author: Janet Evanovich Genre: Fiction, Mystery
Pages: 320
Publication: Bantam, November 2013

Mystery Mayhem

Here’s a quick look what’s new in some of my favorite mystery series!

minor adjustment beauty salonThe No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency novels take place in Botswana, where the traditionally-built Mme Precious Ramotswe, with the help of her assistant Mma Grace Makutsi, uses her common sense to solve the mysteries of those around her.

In this latest installment, The Minor Adjustment Beauty Salon, Mme Ramotswe has two cases to worry about.  A lawyer has asked her to confirm the identity of the beneficiary of a deceased farmer’s estate and the owner of the Minor Adjustment Beauty Salon has been subjected to nasty rumors that are ruining her business.  Is someone trying to get an inheritance that isn’t theirs?  Why is someone trying to destroy the new salon’s reputation?  And, although she has yet to mention it, it has become obvious that Mme Makutsi is pregnant.  Will she mention it before the baby’s born?  And who will keep the office running smoothly while she’s out?

Reading a book in this series is always relaxing for me.  No matter the mystery, no one ever feels the need to rush; there is always time for a cup of tea and polite conversation.  Mme Ramotswe is as lovable as ever – kind, thoughtful, respectful, and insightful.  Mme Makutsi, while always quirky, becomes more likable in this installment of the series – motherhood seems to soften her, make her more aware of the importance of her relationships and those who support her.  Another fun and restful trip to Botswana – perfect with a cup of tea!

Title: The Minor Adjustment Beauty Salon
Author:Alexander McCall Smith
Genre: Fiction, Mystery
Pages: 256
Publication: Pantheon, November 2013

critical massThe V.I. Warshawski novels follow Chicago private investigator V.I. Warshawski as she takes on cases that take her from the social echelons of Chicago to its seediest sides.  There were times, in the middle of this series, where I was beginning to tire of the characters and the storylines, but I am thrilled that I stuck with her; Critical Mass may be the best yet in the series.

In this latest installment, Critical Mass, V.I. is asked by her friend Dr. Lotty Herschel for help.  Lotty grew up in Vienna and lost her family during the Holocaust.  One of the children she escaped with is now living in Chicago and her daughter, a drug-addict, is in trouble.  When V.I. starts digging she uncovers a mystery that goes back to Vienna and WWII, the atomic bomb, and the Holocaust, involving drug addicts, physicists, computer scientists, and corporate giants.

The history and the science could’ve made the story overly detailed and boring, but it didn’t.  Instead, it added depth and interest to an already fascinating story.  This page-turner has me eagerly awaiting the next book in the series.

Title: Critical Mass
Author:Sara Paretsky
Genre: Fiction, Mystery
Pages: 480
Publication: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, October 2013

dustThe Kay Scarpetta novels follow medical examiner Dr. Kay Scarpetta and the rest of her team – her husband, FBI profiler Benton Wesley, her niece, computer genius Lucy, and detective Pete Marino.  The series starts with Kay as the medical examiner in Virginia, but at this point in the series she is in Boston.  The crimes she is involved in solving are always brutal, the violence always graphic, but at one point, the stories were always page-turners.  Unfortunately, that is not the case anymore…

I was very disappointed with her last book in this series, The Bone Bed, and was hoping for a return to better writing, character development, and storytelling in this latest installment.  But it was even worse.  The book starts off with Kay sick in bed, having just returned from working the scenes of the killings at Sandy Hook.  Why this was incorporated into the story at all is a mystery to me – it added nothing to the storyline and just seemed like a blatant attempt to incorporate current events.  Personally, I found it disturbing and insulting that it was included at all.  But even putting that aside, the rest of the story was painfully slow – there is a serial killer on the loose and the FBI seems to be working against the good guys – but I just couldn’t care for long.  Marino has left working for Kay to become a cop again – too much of the story is just nonsense about Marino and Benton and Kay and their personal issues and some love triangle that was played out a long time ago.  Again, I couldn’t care less.  Lucy never changes and grows as a character.  Honestly – all of the main characters seem to be stuck in destructive and annoying cycles of their lives.  Unfortunately, this will be the last second-chance I am giving to the series…

Title: Dust
Author:Patricia Cornwell
Genre: Fiction, Mystery
Pages: 523
Publication: Putnam Adult, November 2013

silent nightThe Spenser novels follow Boston private investigator Spenser with the most common recurring characters being his love interest Dr. Susan Silverman and his best friend Hawk.

A scared kid shows up at Spenser’s office door, looking for help.  The home for homeless boys where he has been living is being threatened.  Without it there will be a bunch of kids on the streets.  Spenser, with help and back-up from Hawk, follows the trail to drug kingpins and ultimately saves the boys and their home.

What I have loved most about this series is the interactions between Spenser and Hawk, hilarious dialog with a core trust and friendship that both men share with few others.  With the death of Robert B. Parker the series has been turned over to Ace Atkins who has done a wonderful job catching Parker’s voice.  However this Christmas novel, started by Parker, was completed by his agent Helen Brann who seemed to give the characters, and the actual detecting, little attention.  It was unfortunate, but it was also a quick read over the holidays so I’ll let it go and hope for more from Ace Atkins soon!

Title: Silent Night: A Spenser Holiday Novel
Author:Robert B. Parker, Helen Brann
Genre: Fiction, Mystery
Pages: 240
Publication: Putnam Adult, October 2013