Sunday, May 26, 2019

Murder at Morrington Hall (A Stella and Lyndy Mystery) by Clara McKenna: Reading Room Review


As a lifelong resident of Kentucky but an ardent fan of British mystery and crime books, how could I not be drawn to a new series featuring a young woman from Kentucky who is betrothed to a young English lord. Add to that Stella Kendrick is an independent thinking horsewoman whose father is famous for his race horses and horse farm, and Murder at Morrington Hall is an irresistible read for me. The time period is a favorite of mine, too, the early 1900s, 1905 to be exact, when so much change is occurring in the world, and inventions are on the rise to bring the 20th century into a wonder of convenience never before seen. The Daimler car Stella, her father and her aunt arrive in at the English estate of Morrington Hall is the first taste that the proper English family of Lord and Lady Atherly have of the Americans and their faster, less formal approach to life and an example of the changes coming.  And, there is the matter of murder to sweeten the pot.

Stella Kendrick is excited that her father has included her in his trip to England where he is taking his prize thoroughbred and a couple of other horses to an English estate where their stable is in dire need of new blood. Her father even included Stella's horse Tully that she rides so that she wouldn't miss him while in England.  And, while visiting, there will be a wedding to attend.  Or, this is the scenario Stella believes up until it becomes painfully obvious upon arrival and upon meeting Viscount "Lyndy" Lyndhurst, the son of Lord and Lady Atherly, that the real reason for the horses accompanying them is a marriage deal between the set of parents, that the wedding is to be hers.  With Stella's mother being deceased, it is Stella's unfeeling father who decides that his daughter will help to raise his social standing by marrying the young Lord Lyndhurst. Furious with her father and tripping all over herself from being out of step with the English way of doing things, Stella is miserable. So, she does what she has always done in her loneliness growing up with a disinterested father, she goes to the stable for comfort from her horse where she runs into Lyndy, who also uses horses as an escape from tedious responsibilities. While they do bond over their love of riding, and Lyndy is quite the charming, considerate man, Stella is far from convinced that marrying him is her fate. Of course, she soon has an encounter with her father who ensures her that she will do as he says. Mr. Kendrick is not a nice man, and readers will be impressed by Stella's strength in the face of his brutality.

As is the English custom, tea must be observed that first afternoon, and the vicar who is to marry the couple will appear at tea to discuss matters. When the vicar doesn't show up at the appointed time, Lyndy offers to show Stella around the house while they look for him, as the vicar was to have been waiting at the house. The two find the vicar in the library, but he won't be performing anybody's wedding every again. He is dead and it is murder. Yes, my anglophile self, lover of British mystery, is quite happy with the "dead in the manor's library and found at tea time" situation. But, this is no simple Professor Plum in the library with the fire poker. Well, it was the fire poker, but finding the murderer is going to be a journey any mystery reader will savor. Stella and Lyndy learn to trust each other quickly as they are thrown into uncovering facts and evidence that will lead to the killer. While Stella's American style of conducting herself may clash with the English approach, it is helpful to her and Lyndy's efforts to accomplish that goal, and Lyndy gets the chance to see Stella as she really is, something he is intrigued by and most receptive to.

I can say without a doubt in my mind that Clara McKenna has given readers the first book in what will be a winning series. The consistency of its engaging writing from page to page is what makes it a book that's unputdownable. Murder at Morrington Hall is simply a well-written, captivating story. The characters have all been given an excellent start in their development. Stella and Lyndy have already shown a maturing of minds and an ability to evolve into a future that they control. Their witty dialogue demonstrates the intelligence and relatability of the two. While Stella's father and Lyndy's parents could be said to be stereotypical of the boorish American and the uptight British, it is the place where they must naturally start, with the future determining whether they can overcome their prejudicial temperaments. The minor characters that include Lyndy's sister Alice, the staff, and the police have also presented a great potential for growth and inclusion in the continuing story line. And, the setting should get a nod, too, the New Forest region with its wild New Forest ponies and countryside. It speaks of much mystery to unfold, which every great mystery series should have.  

Another aspect of the series that interests me is the historical fact in which it's based of the American "Dollar Princesses," who married into British aristocracy for a better social standing and for a much-needed infusion of money for the British aristocrat whom the rich American woman was marrying.  McKenna's fictional book is likely to cause further examination of this practice in the real life stories of such well-known people as Winston Churchill, whose mother was a "Dollar Princess."  This mutually beneficial arrangement of Americans gaining status and British gaining money happened between the late 19th century and WWII.

I received a copy of Murder at Morrington Hall from the author, and my review is my absolute true assessment of how much I enjoyed it and how much I think other readers will love it, too.








Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Queen of Spades by Kristi Belcamino: Reading Room Review





Having fallen in love with the Gia Santella series by Kristi Belcamino, I am thrilled that the author has extended the story backwards to Gia's family roots in Sicily with Eva Lucia Santella's, aka The Queen of Spades, story. Readers of the Gia books have already been introduced to Eva, who has come to Gia's aid both in Italy and Gia's home of San Franciso. In A Queen of Spades, the dark past of the Santella family is revealed, their Sicilian Mafia past, where Eva Lucia Santella learned in her teens how to be a powerful and much-feared assassin. When Eva's father dies in prison, she takes over the running of the family and the position of Mafia boss, a decision of her father's that leaves her two stepbrothers unhappy. In the brothers' attempts to descredit and overthrow Eva, Eva kills one of her brothers. As in any men's world organization, other bosses side with the remaining brother and decree a death sentence for Eva. Of course, they have to catch her first.

Twenty years from her Sicily days, Eva has found a place to hide in Los Angles, California and is living a "normal" life with a husband and two children. It's been a wonderful decade since she married and became a member of the PTA and lived the good life of a Malibu Beach resident. But, she hasn't been complacent. Eva has been careful to keep a low profile and make arrangements for herself and her family if the Sicilians catch up with her. Sitting in a PTA meeting, Eva receives a message on her phone that turns a fund-raiser meeting into a scramble for her family's lives. The tables of vengeance soon turn, as Eva discovers too late that the worst has happened, but even the worst brings unexpected evil and betrayal. Now, vengeance is all that Eva lives for. Training her body, her mind, and her emotions to be a killing machine again is her focus. And, yet, the author brilliantly is able to show readers in Eva’s interactions with a young boy that Eva’s compassion and looking out for those unable to do so for themselves is a large part of who this tough survivalist woman is. Her concern for the less fortunate was ingrained into her as a child, and she has not lost touch with that core piece of herself even in the depths of tragedy. However, her quest for revenge must be fulfilled, and after she learns the name of her target, she is relentless in her pursuit.

I have yet to read a Kristi Belcamino book that doesn't grab me up in its excitement. Her ability to engage the reader is masterful. And, who writing novels creates more kickass characters than Kristi--Gabriella Giovanni, Gia Santella, and now Eva Santella. Kristi Belcamino is truly the queen of kickass characters. Perhaps there should be an addendum to that title though, Queen of Kickass Characters with Heart. Each of these three strong women show their strength not only in how tough they can be, how they can fight, but also in how dedicated they are to righting a wrong. Eva, the Queen of Spades, could be a super-hero in any world of right versus evil. She is someone you will be invested in from the beginning of her tale. I'm so pleased that Kristi Belcamino made the move to bring us Eva's story, but then this is an author who instinctively makes all the right moves.

I received an advanced copy of Queen of Spades from the author, and my enthusiasm at sharing its publication is a genuine expression of my delight as a reader and reviewer.  This book is magnifico!



Tuesday, May 7, 2019

A Deadly Feast by Lucy Burdette: Reading Room Review




It's #9 in the Key West Food Critic Mysteries, and this series is still as fresh as the seafood that can be found at the Eaton Street Seafood Market in that island paradise. Every book gives us new insights into the fabulous food and unique life that Key West boasts. As you read about Hayley Snow's visits to different food venues in the series, you begin to make your own list of familiar restaurant names, places Hayley has already taken you and places that are new, and there are always new places to add. And, yet, with all the mouth-watering food dishes and interesting places Lucy Burdette includes in the books, she expands beyond the cozy factor of these mysteries to issues that real people face in a setting that on the surface looks picture perfect. There is a balance to the stories that, while readers absolutely enjoy a positive and fun read, the issues like homelessness and island politics and drugs are weaved into the story lines. Of course, even in a mystery set in paradise, there must be places where the sun doesn’t quite reach.

A Deadly Feast sees Hayley gearing up for a busy Thanksgiving week. Not only is there the big turkey dinner with family and friends, she and Nathan Bransford are getting married the day after Thanksgiving. So, Hayley's trying to keep other activities to a minimum and have an uncomplicated build-up to her big day. There will be enough stress with her father, step-mother, and step-brother coming to town for a Thanksgiving Day meal and the wedding. Hayley is nervous about her father meeting Sam, her mother's new husband, and Nathan, Hayley's husband-to-be. Hayley's job as food critic at Key Zest, the online cultural zine for Key West, is looking like a breeze to get through during wedding week, as she only has to go on a seafood tour her friend Analise is running and do a write-up on it. But then, one of the attendees on the food tour dies, drops dead on the last stop, which is sadly her last stop ever.  Haley has heard rumors that the woman had a stroke, but then Analise calls Hayley in a desperate state, worried what effect the death will have on her food tours business if the death is ruled suspicious, Hayley promises her friend to do some investigating of the places on the tour. With every intention to just ask some questions and try to ease Analise's mind about it, Hayley feels she is keeping her word to her fiancé Nathan to stay out of police business. Anyway, Nathan himself is buried under a hush-hush operation the Key West Police Department is involved in.

Although Hayley is reassured by Steve Torrence, Nathan's colleague at the police department and the officiant of their wedding ceremony, that all will go smoothly at the ceremony, Hayley is just hoping there is a ceremony. She's getting more and more involved in the dead tourist on the food tour situation, and Nathan seems to be repeatedly unavailable because of his secret assignment. Hayley’s hopes of the food tour problem going quietly away are dashed when one of the chefs on the ill-fated food tour admits that her key lime pie in jars she served may have been tampered with. Haley thinks there's much more that this chef, Martha Hubbard, isn't disclosing. As if Hayley's and Nathan's investigations aren't complicating things enough, the houseboat that Nathan bought next to Miss Gloria's houseboat (Hayley's current abode) has fallen through the cracks of work on recent hurricane repairs in the Keys, and the contractor has put their houseboat at the bottom of a long list. It looks more and more like Hayley’s gotten a bad hand dealt from Lorenzo.

One of the great benefits of reading a series is having the opportunity to watch the established characters grow and new characters find their niche. Lucy Burdette has created one of my favorite set of characters in a mystery series. They are supportive of one another and bring their interesting lives to the table in different degrees in different books. By this ninth book, A Deadly Feast, Hayley and Nathan have gone through some real growing pains of a relationship and are ready to bring compromise and thoughtfulness to their communications. Nathan being willing to live on a houseboat (he’s not a fan of them) so that Hayley can be next to her octogenarian best friend Miss Gloria is a brilliant way to establish how committed he is to Hayley. Readers, don’t miss A Deadly Feast to see if Hayley and Nathan make it to the alter on their chosen day. And, don't forget the bonus of some delicious recipes at the end of the story.

I was fortunate to receive a copy of A Deadly Feast from the publisher, and the above is my honest review of a delightful book.

Friday, May 3, 2019

May Mystery and Crime Titles: A Killer Month

This year continues with lots of great new titles for mystery and crime.  Here are sixteen of the books that have gotten my attention for May 2019.  I've already read The Stone Circle by Elly Griffiths, and I'm currently reading A Deadly Feast by Lucy Burdette, so I'm dead (pun intended) serious about May being a killer of a month for mystery and crime reading.  



May 2019

One Small Sacrifice by Hilary Davidson (May 1st)
The Stone Circle (Ruth Galloway #11) by Elly Griffiths (May 7th)
A Deadly Feast (Key West Food Critic Mystery #9) by Lucy Burdette (May 7th)
The Body in the Wake (Faith Fairchild #25) by Katherine Hall Page (May 7th)
The Road to Grantchester by James Runcie (May 7th)
The Last Time I Saw You: A Novel by Liv Constantine (May 7th)
Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud, and the Last Trial of Harper Lee by Casey Cep (May 7th)
Breaking the Dance (A World of Spies Mystery) by Clare O'Donohue (May 8th)
The Night Before: A Novel by Wendy Walker (May 14th)
The Satapur Moonstone (A Mystery of 1920s India) by Sujata Massey (May 14th)
If She Wakes by Michael Koryta (May 14th)
The Confessions of Frannie Langton by Sara Collins (May 21st)
The Island: A Thriller (The Hulda Series) by Ragnar Jonasson (May 21st)
Deception Cove (Neah Bay Book #1) by Owen Laukkanen (May 21st) 
Queen of Spades: A Thriller by Kristi Belcamino (May 23rd
Murder at Morrington Hall by Clara McKenna (May 28th)
Borrowed Time (A Chicago Mystery, #2) by Tracy Clark (May 28th)






















Scot & Soda (A Last Ditch Mystery) by Catriona McPherson: Reading Room Review



We were first introduced to Scottish therapist Lexy Campbell in Scot Free, and she was such a wonderful reflection of author Catriona McPherson's personal wit and humor that you knew it was the beginning of a fabulous new series. Like the author, character Lexy Campbell is a Scottish transplant to northern California, but unlike the author, Lexy's introduction to the states has been a series of mishaps and murder. Lexy has landed in the fictitious town of Cuento, California at the Last Ditch Motel and is currently living on a houseboat anchored in the slough next to the motel. While this situation sounds less than desirable and certainly has its share of problems, Lexy has formed close friendships with the long-term residents of the motel, which also boasts the Skweeky Kleen Launderette. It's a crew of diverse backgrounds and talents, and in Scot & Soda the bug-a-phobic, fashion enthusiast doctor and germophobic owner of the Skweeky Kleen have some interesting ideas about how they can combine their talents with Lexy's therapy business. Quirky rules the day at the Last Ditch Motel. But, I've gotten ahead of the story.

Lexy is trying hard to make her Halloween party on her houseboat an American celebration, in spite of her unfamiliarity with many of the non-Scottish traditions. There are some glitches, but Lexy and her friends from the Last Ditch are enjoying the infected toenail chips, the phlegm cups, and the hen's feet treats and the festive atmosphere of the creepy holiday. But, there's creepy cool and creepy bad, and when Lexy tries to pull up the beer chilling in the slough off her boat, the creepy gets way too bad and way too real. Tangled up in the rope and beer is a dead body, a real body, not some Halloween prank, and the man is dressed in Scottish attire, a kilt and a tam o'shanter (red wig and tam) stapled to his head. The coincidence of a dead body in Scottish attire showing up attached to the boat of the only Scottish person in the vicinity seems way too close for comfort. That a ring Lexy saw around one of the fingers of the dead man disappears before the body can be examined sets Lexy's curiosity radar ablaze. It's not surprising that the Last Ditch "family" of friends becomes involved in discovering who this party crasher is and why he ended up dead in the slough. When they uncover his identity as one Tam O. Shanter attending his 50th high school reunion, there's no holding this oddball investigative crew back. They are in it until the bitter end, and the road there is a twisty, bumpy one.

Catriona McPherson is a born storyteller, and whether it's a gruesome, dark tale or a spirited, witty romp, she creates the characters who are perfect for their parts. The Last Ditch mysteries will entertain you page after page with humorous antics and witty dialogue. Lexy trying to straighten out her Scottish take on the American language is hilarious. I'm looking forward to the next adventure this charming Scot and her friends jump into with a ready smile.

Thanks to Midnight Ink for an ARC of Scot & Soda and to Catriona McPherson for a grand story that kept me in stitches.



Thursday, May 2, 2019

A Risky Undertaking for Loretta Singletary by Terry Shames: Reading Room Review


When I first saw Loretta's name in the title of the new Samuel Craddock series, I was absolutely delighted. Loretta Singletary is one of those supporting characters in a series who makes a return to it a must. Of course, I dearly love Samuel Craddock, the main character, and he is one of the fictitious characters I'd most like to meet, but he does need a stellar supporting cast who make Jarrett Creek a destination of return time and time again. Fortunately for readers, author Terry Shames is a master at creating intriguing characters who are never stagnant but are always evolving, with their Texas charm masking a strength and determination of achieving their goals, be they good or bad. Even Samuel's new puppy, Dusty, adds to our enjoyment of and telling of the story.

It seems that Chief of Police Samuel Craddock isn't the only one in Jarret Creek with romance on his mind. His new relationship with Wendy, whom he met at a Thanksgiving dinner his then girlfriend Ellen couldn't attend, is giving Samuel new pause for wonder at how being in sync with another human being can be so thrilling again. When long-time friend Loretta Singletary stops by Samuel's house to speak to him about the annual goat rodeo in town, Samuel is surprised she's not bringing baked goods like she usually does, and she's dressed up as if going somewhere special. She even has a new haircut and is wearing make-up. But, Samuel has no idea what has sparked Loretta's new interest in her appearance until she turns up missing. Then he learns that his old friend, whom he had taken for granted as a pillar of the community and predictable down to the delicious cinnamon rolls she bakes has joined the 21st century by signing up for a senior citizens' online dating service. 

While allowing for the fact that Loretta was spreading her wings into new territory outside of Jarrett and her beloved Baptist Church, Samuel knows that Loretta would not have just taken off without informing someone. No matter what newly enlightened attitude Loretta was adopting, she was still a highly responsible person and a thoughtful mother, friend, and community member. When another older woman using the same dating site as Loretta turns up missing and then dead, Samuel and his new, efficient deputy Maria Trevino start investigating on a urgent schedule of combing through Loretta's dating profile and interviewing anyone who might have any useful information. The investigation is a great police procedural to follow. The Chief of Police at Bobtail, the other town where the missing woman was from, is most cooperative with Samuel, as they work towards finding the person they think is responsible for both disappearances and the one death. Samuel is desperate to find Loretta and not have her name added to the dead. There are lots of interesting items that come up during the investigation of the dating site, some of concern about a Jarrett Creek member of the site, but there is nothing more surprising than the ending of this tale. Shames has given readers a magnificently mastered twisted treat of a finale.

While dealing with the issue of online dating, this story delves into an area of it too often neglected, that of senior citizens using this avenue to meet people and prospective partners. Senior citizens are especially vulnerable, with people preying on them for their money and family maybe being miles away. But, this isn't the tale of frailty or tragedy. It's actually a wonderful look at Loretta becoming more than just a taken-for-granted, reliable person. It's a wake-up call for her friends, especially Samuel, who consider her a close friend and yet haven't the first clue about how Loretta feels as an individual woman and just how generous her baking for everyone is. The book gives a new depth to many of the characters, just when you think you couldn't love them any more. For me, A Risky Undertaking for Loretta Singletary is a landmark story in the Samuel Craddock series, from which there are so many more stories waiting to be told. Of course, Terry Shames all along has led us deeper and deeper into the community of Jarrett Creek, making it impossible for readers to ever get enough of its residents and their stories.



Sunday, April 7, 2019

April New Mystery/Crime Publications: Reading Room Picks

April is bringing some much wanted warmer weather and some amazing new mystery/crime titles to read while you sit outside soaking up the beautiful weather.  The old joke that a book lover's favorite outside activity is reading outside certainly resonates with those of us who are passionate about the written page.  So, as I am desperately trying to still catch up with the new publications from the first three months of the year, I am looking at many April titles that I know I just can't miss.  Below are some of the April books that I find particularly appealing.



April 2019

Girl Most Likely: A Thriller by Max Allan Collins (April 1st)

The Loch Ness Papers (A Scottish Bookshop Mystery) by Paige Shelton (April 2nd)

Scot and Soda (A Last Ditch Mystery) by Catriona McPherson (April 8th)

Charity's Burden (Quaker Midwife Mystery #4) by Edith Maxwell (April 8th)

With a Kiss I Die (A Theater Cop Mystery) by J. A. Hennrikus (April 8th)

Someone Knows by Lisa Scottoline (April 9th)

They All Fall Down by Rachel Howzell Hall (April 9th)

The Better Sister: A Novel by Alafair Burke (April 16th)

From the Shadows by G R Halliday (debut) (April 18th)

A Risky Undertaking for Loretta Singletary by Terry Shames (April 23rd)

Courting Mr. Lincoln: A Novel by Louis Bayard (April 23rd)

Murder Knocks Twice by Susanna Caulkins (April 30th)

Murder in the Reading Room (A Book Retreat Mystery) by Ellery Adams (April 30th)

Murder on Trinity Place (A Gaslight Mystery, #22) by Victoria Thompson 











Friday, March 29, 2019

Murder on Cape Cod by Maddie Day: Reading Room Review



There are so many mystery/crime series that I already read and ones that I want to start reading, I'm delighted when a new series starts and I can get in on the ground floor. Maddie Day, also known as Edith Maxwell, is a prolific writer who already has multiple series she authors. So, of course, the logical move is for Maddie to start yet another wonderful series. As I have a yearning to visit Cape Cod, I was quite pleased when I heard her new series, the Cozy Capers Book Group Mysteries, would be set there, and I knew I had to catch this first book, Murder on Cape Cod, as hot off the presses as I could. As I anticipated, I loved the Cape Cod world seen in the small town of Westham, Massachusetts. Small local shops with a sense of real community amongst the people living there was just what I had hoped to find and did. Mac's Bikes with Mackenzie “Mac” Almeida at its helm provides a great base for the main character. We get to see Mac as an independent woman who knows how to take her skills and carve out a successful niche in an area where tourists drive the economy. Hers is a busy enterprise, and she has a good eye for hiring the right fit for jobs in it. This ability to get to the core of a person will both help her and endanger her when there's murder in the fresh, salt air.

After some years away, Mac Almeida returned to Westham to settle down and live in the comfort of her family and old friends. She is now ensconced into the area with her own business, a charming house behind the business, an African Grey parrot, the delectable owner of the local bakery as her boyfriend, and a cozy mystery book club she enjoys. Her parents are minutes away and her brother works in her bicycle shop. So, life is working out well for Mac in her chosen path. And, then another path, the one that runs beside her little house, throws her a curve ball. Mac is making her way home from a meeting of the Cozy Capers Book Club in a dense fog when she stumbles upon the body of local handyman Jake Lacey, only feet away from her home sweet home. It's not until the police arrive that Mac realizes just how bad the situation is, as turning the body over reveals a knife sticking out of the victim. And, the knife isn't just any old murder weapon. It is a custom-made knife that looks exactly like Mac's brother's fishing knife. Mac keeps that bit of information to herself for the time being. 

When word gets out, which is quickly in a small community like Westham, about Jake Lacey's murder, the Cozy Capers Book Club members are both horrified and fascinated that a real murder mystery has presented itself, and that they have the inside track with Mac having found the body. Although Detective Lincoln Haskins has warned Mac to leave the investigation to the police, Mac feels that the knife is going to direct that investigation toward her brother Derrick, so she turns to the Cozy Capers to gather information and sift through clues and suspects. There's no shortage of suspects to consider, as several new faces have shown up in town before or on the day of the murder. But, Detective Haskins isn't the only one who doesn't want the Cozy Capers sticking their noses in where they don't belong. The killer is all too aware of Mac's interest in and poking around the clues, and Mac is putting herself in a danger that fictional scenarios don't prepare her for.

It looks like Maddie Day has yet another hit series in the making.  Maddie Day/Edith Maxwell is a master at creating settings and characters that quickly endear themselves to readers.  Mac is a great new character, with many interesting aspects to her life, the least of which isn't her adorable pet Belle, the African Grey parrot, asking for kisses and cuddling in boyfriend Tim's lap. This first book is a good introduction to Mac's family, too. Her brother Derrick and his four-year-old daughter Cokey have an intriguing back story that readers are given access to. Mac's father is a minister in the community and a seemingly well-balanced source of peace and wisdom. Mom is a free spirit who has found purpose in her life by reading people's astrological charts. And, Abo Reba, Mac's grandmother is a force all her own. Rounding out the regulars are members of the Cozy Capers, Mac's employees, and Mac's boyfriend, Baker Tim, all unique cogs in the wheels that keep this charming seaside town running. I already feel like Westham is a place I want to visit over and over again. 



Sunday, March 24, 2019

The Night Visitors by Carol Goodman: Reading Room Review




The Night Visitors, due out March 26th, is only the second Carol Goodman novel I've read, but it's the second one in the last month, as I'm on a reading mission to enjoy all of her thrilling tales. She has already become an author of consistent satisfaction for me. Carol Goodman knows how to tell a story, to pull a reader in from the beginning and to keep the suspense building without pause. The Night Visitors is a story of survival on so many levels, with twists from the past and the present that will rise up to shake the foundations of what you think you've figured out. It's a reader's paradise of unpredictability. And, yet, Goodman writes with what I can only describe as a confidence that transfers to the reader as trust in being lead through the maze to a resolution. The characters are deftly drawn to evoke investment in their outcome, with even the flaws of characters being a part you want to understand. There are, of course, the main characters with whom readers will be wholly involved, but the minor characters and the "bad guys" are riveting in their roles. Then, there is a touch of the other worldly in the presence of another character who, while he certainly doesn't make it a ghost story, eerily contributes to the progression of events.

The Night Visitors begins on a bus ride at night in the cold and often unforgiving conditions of an upper New York state winter. The setting speaks to the desolation of Alice and Oren, two battered souls traveling on the bus to escape their abuser. Alice, in her thirties, and Oren, a ten-year-old boy who uses his love of Star Wars to dissociate from the brutalities of his situation, arrive in the small town of Delphi, New York in the middle of a snowstorm, Alice having called a hotline for help and being directed to that location. Mattie Lane is a seasoned, fiftyish social worker who is used to getting the late night calls to meet a bus, as she lives alone and is readily available. When she sees Alice and Oren, Mattie is immediately drawn to the young boy, as he reminds her of Caleb, her little brother who had died at the same age as Oren is. The plan and protocol to take Alice and Oren to a nearby convent that houses abuse victims on their way to a more permanent solution is disregarded by Mattie, as the snowstorm makes taking them to her house, even closer, overnight a seemingly better idea. It's a rule that is not broken lightly, as the result is too often an undesirable one. But, with the weather and, of course, Mattie's interest in the boy guiding her, it's to her home they go.

Mattie still lives in her family home, a large house in the country, a place that has known its share of grief and sadness. Its isolation and its dilapidated condition add to an already dark and possibly dangerous atmosphere. When traces of Caleb seem to be making their appearance, the foreboding setting takes an even more intense turn. Oren reveals some unique gifts of clairvoyance and an understanding beyond his years, which will become important to the efforts of the three to survive. Mattie and Alice play things closer to the vest, each with secrets that are part of the puzzle to enable them to navigate the twists of the story. And, Mattie's secrets contain some that even she isn't aware of, so they are especially dangerous. Struggling to ensure that Alice and Oren get the chance for a new life, Mattie takes measures to fortify the house and themselves against those who wish them harm. Then, like in all great stories of suspense and twist, the lights go out. When the lights are restored, Mattie will have learned truths that could either break her or set her free.

I was so fortunate to receive a copy of The Night Visitors from the author, who so graciously stated that she hoped I enjoyed it but was under no obligation to do so. Well, I did enjoy it and highly recommend it. It is a captivating story that has perfect timing, chilling twists, and is brilliantly written.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Border Line by Kristi Belcamino: Reading Room Review


Gia Santella is back for book #8 in Border Line, and it is another thrilling page-turner by Kristi Belcamino that leads this series' many fans on a trip through dangerous and intense territory. There is nothing easy about the situations in which Gia finds herself (or involves herself), both the story-lines and Gia are full-force, take no prisoners and fight to the death. Passionate about her life, her friends, and her projects, Gia is the person you want by your side and on your side. I love her strength and generosity, and now, in Border Line, readers are getting to see some softness in Gia, too. It's not a weakness. It's a softness in caring about how her actions and words affect others, not just spinning through life with her own agenda. 

Part of Gia's new maturity is due to her relationship with James and their adjustment to his injuries from the last story. Living together and admitting that she loves James and wants it to be long term has resulted in Gia being more mindful of what's important to her. Of course, Gia's aunt, the Queen of Spades, helped Gia get her drinking and other bad habits under control the last time the two of them met, with healthier eating and a physically challenging regimen that Gia still adheres to. Life with James and her dog Django is going well, and they are getting ready to enter one of their favorite Mexican restaurants in the Mission area of San Francisco when they have a young girl thrust in their arms by a frantic woman pleading with them to take the girl and get her to safety. The woman claims that the ICE agents chasing them will mean death for the child if she is caught. Well, Gia has a major protective streak in her, so she and James whisk the child away in Gia's jeep, narrowly escaping the clutches of ICE. 

Back at Gia's loft, seven-year-old Rosalie confirms something else that the woman with her had said, that Gia was not just some random person they chose to help. Rosalie tells of a woman in black that had given them Gia's and James' names as those to seek in saving the child. Gia knows at once that the woman in black is her Aunt Eva, the Queen of Spades. Gia feels that the only thing she can do is to keep the child at her loft and try to find the woman who fled the scene after forcing Rosalie on them. While Gia's goal is to reunite Rosalie with her family, there is a surprising easiness with which she and James (and Django) settle into having this child in their lives. And, it's quite evident that Rosalie enjoys being with them. But, Gia has to shake herself and focus on finding family with whom to give Rosalie over to.

Of course, this is Gia Santella, and nothing is ever simple. There is so much more to Rosalie's story than just avoiding ICE agents and a disadvantaged life in Guatemala. There is the deepest, darkest, most evil kind of danger that awaits Rosalie outside of Gia's and James' protection. While James is no longer a part of the police force, he is busy trying to prove the deep-seated corruption of the force, a corruption that almost killed him. So, it is up to Gia to figure out who the players are and why they so desperately are trying to grab Rosalie and make her disappear. Nothing upsets Gia more than evil being visited upon innocent people, and she must call upon her most bad-ass self to fight a force that hides itself behind the riches money can buy and takes what it wants however it needs to. Gia has been up against ruthless before, but with children's lives involved, the stakes are the highest they've ever been.

Kristi Belcamino has once again given readers a high octane tale with one of crime fiction's most fascinating characters. It is little wonder that Gia Santella has captured the minds and hearts of so many readers, with her steely determination to fight the greatest odds to right a wrong. It's always a good reading day when Gia is the story. And, like Gia, Kristi Belcamino, never shies away from tackling the difficult subjects.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Reading Room Interview with Wendall Thomas



I am so excited to have Wendall Thomas on The Reading Room Blog today for an interview.  She has Cyd Redondo #2, Drowned Under, out tomorrow, March 19th.  My review is already up her on my blog, and as with the first book in this wonderful series, I loved every page of it.  In today's interview with Wendall, readers will discover that Wendall is every bit as interesting as her character Cyd.  At the end of the interview, I'm including links to Wendall's website and other connections to her, which I'm sure you'll want to explore.

Note: My questions will be prefaced by KBR for Kathy Boone Reel, and Wendall’s answers will begin with WT for Wendall Thomas. 



Interview:

KBR:  Wendall, I’m always amazed by the “day jobs” so many authors have, how many different hats they wear besides author.  I must say that you take “day job” to a whole new level.  Readers only have to visit your author website and view the bio information to see just how multi-talenteid and constantly busy you are, but what I’d like for you to do is tell readers what a typical year is like for you these days, if there is a typical year.  What are your regular gigs, and has that changed since adding novelist to the list? Does sleep even figure into your schedule?


WT:  Any freelancer juggles a million things—it’s the nature of the beast.  Since I never know if I’m going to get another job, or if I’m going to get paid on time for the one I’m doing, I rarely turn down work, even if I don’t have time to do it. In a regular year, I teach at least one class in the Graduate Film School at UCLA, run some kind of screenwriting mentorship program in the UK or Australia, prep and deliver 24 hours worth of lectures for the Melbourne International Film Festival, create and host “The Living Room Lectures” in my house, and do personal script consulting. In 2018, while I was trying to write Drowned Under, I also had a script optioned (which involved major rewrites for the producers) and had to create and film a term’s worth of video lectures on screenwriting for UCLA’s online program, so it was probably my most stressful year ever. I’ve pretty much been getting up at 4 a.m. for the last 18 months, just so I can work enough to afford to write novels and stories. I do make sure to set aside time to write every day, no matter what.

  

KBR:  The next logical question I suppose would be, with already having a full career with screenwriting, consulting, teaching, speaking, and lecturing, how did you get into writing novels?  Was there a lightbulb moment when you thought, aha I want to write a novel, or did that seed get planted when you were little Wendall conquering grade school with your pen and paper?  

WT:  I’ve always been an obsessive reader - my third-grade teacher was concerned I was reading too much and called my parents in, but my father told her to go to hell – so I always wanted to write novels, but for years I believed if I couldn’t be as good as Jane Austen or Flannery O’Connor or Henry James, I shouldn’t even try. I started out writing songs, then scripts. Lost Luggage was originally a script which didn’t sell. I was reading a ridiculous amount of mystery novels at the time and, not wanting to give up on Cyd, I wondered whether she might be right for a series. So I took a deep breath and tried NaNoWriMo. I think the sheer speed that it requires finally allowed me to get out of my own way.


KBR:  I know that dialogue is supposed to drive the story forward and deepen characterization, and the dialogue in this series absolutely does all that, but it’s also some of the most entertaining, witty dialogue I’ve read.  Do you think being a script writer, dialogue is easier for you to write, or is it harder in the context of a novel?  And, what do you think is the biggest difference or adjustment you’ve had to make from script writing to novel writing?


WT:  Dialogue has always been my favorite part of writing scripts and I absolutely believe that the kind of pacing and rhythm you try to create in a film script can help you in novel writing. The hardest things for me in the transition to novel writing were, first, being inside my characters’ heads, (forbidden in screenwriting, you have to externalize everything) and, second, trying to create the same “zany” film rhythm in the physical comedy, since it is a million times harder to do it in prose. With a script you can use the “white spaces” for timing and to set up physical jokes, which you really can’t in a novel. The big set pieces, like the shoot-out at the smuggling compound in Lost Luggage, or the helicopter descent in Drowned Under, Both took an unbelievable number of drafts to get right.


KBR:  Of course, your fans will want to know where you came up with the character of Cyd Redondo.  Is she a complete figment of your imagination, or is there someone whom you met that inspired her creation? And, did you think of the character Cyd first or the story line of the mishap travels?


WT:  I was doing a screenwriting lecture - in Scotland of all places - and she just showed up in my brain. I saw a small woman in a mini skirt, heels, and about fifty flea market bracelets standing in a jungle clearing. A guy came toward her and she whacked him with the bracelets and knocked him out. I liked her.

  

KBR:  Setting is always an element that I take an interest in.  It can be an important part of what makes a character who she/he is.  Being that you grew up in and went to school in North Carolina, and you now live in Los Angeles, what brought you to the setting of Brooklyn for Cyd’s home and business?


WT:  When Cyd showed up, she just seemed like a Jersey or Brooklyn girl. I had a couple of close friends in college who were from Jersey and had multiple older brothers, and so that just seemed right for her. Once I figured out I wanted her to be a travel agent who specialized in senior citizens, I looked up “Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities” and found Bay Ridge. I flew there, befriended the hotel receptionist, and she introduced me to half the town. That was pretty much it. It’s a great, singular place and, of course, the setting for Saturday Night Fever and Peggy Olsen’s home borough in Mad Men.



KBR:  Continuing with setting, Tanzania in Africa was a fascinating location for Cyd’s first adventure in Lost Luggage, and it looks like we’ll be following her to Tasmania in Australia in Drowned Under, book #2.   I must ask, did you intentionally pick locations with names that closely related spelling-wise?  Is Cyd working her way through the T/ania names?  Hahaha!  And, are these places you’ve traveled to yourself?


WT:  Haha. The two “T” names were an accident, but come to think of it, she might have fun in Tonga... I have been to Tasmania, twice, and I’m obsessed with it. For Tanzania, I couldn’t afford a proper safari, but I had several friends who had been there, so I really depended on them as well as multiple travel writers and bloggers. It took a significant amount of reading, YouTube watching, spreading out maps on the floor, going to the San Diego Zoo, etc. to pull it off.

  

KBR:  Were you always interested in mystery/crime books?  Did you go the usual route of reading Trixie Belden or Nancy Drew growing up?  Agatha Christie?  As an adult, is that genre a favorite to read?  Has your reading of mystery/crime increased since you’ve become a part of that community yourself as a writer?  (I know once I started doing reviews of mystery/crime for my Reading Room blog and attending Bouchercon, my TBR list exploded.)  Are there any authors, any genre or non-fiction, that you’ve been a long-time fan of?


WT:  I jumped from Harriet the Spy and Encyclopedia Brown to Agatha Christie. I was babysitting for my cousins and they had all her novels, so I worked through them the summer I was thirteen, moved to Ngaio Marsh, then fell in love with Chandler and Hammett in college. Since then, I have to admit I love everything from noir to zany in crime fiction. And of course, I idolize Sarah Paretsky and Sue Grafton. Yes, my mystery reading has increased exponentially since I started writing mysteries, mainly because the mystery community has the loveliest people ever and when I meet someone new, I instantly want to read all their books.



KBR:  Then, I must satisfy a curiosity of many readers about their favorite authors by asking you what books are on your nightstand waiting?


WT:  I’m doing some research for a period novel at the moment, so in addition to The Best American Noir of the Century, The Zig Zag Girl by Elly Griffiths, All the Way Down by Eric Beetner, and Two Prospectors: The Letters of Sam Shepard, I’m set to reread Henry James’s The Better Sort, Wilkie Collins’s No Name and The Moonstone and John Fowles’s The French Lieutenant’s Woman.

 

KBR:  Although reading is my first love, I’m pleased with so many amazing mystery/crime/detective/amateur-sleuth series on television, from the regular channels to Netflix to Acorn to Amazon Prime to Hulu to Brit Box and more.  Do you have a favorite show or justice-seeker in these ever-growing number of programs?


In terms of filmed series, my absolute favorite at the moment is Patriot on Amazon Prime and after that, probably Shetland, Happy Valley, and Justified.



KBR:  And now, to close out our time together, here is one of my favorite questions I ask authors.  What would you like your readers to know about you that isn’t in your bio information?  Besides your obvious writing talent, any special interests or talents, quirky or not, you’d like to share?


WT:  I was a musician in my youth and put myself through college playing in various sleazy and semi-sleazy bars across America. Probably the worst one was in Marathon Key, where I was the featured “intermission entertainment” between the crab races. My music obsession finally paid off when I got to write Bonnie Raitt’s induction speech for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, so that’s probably the thing I’m proudest of. I also taught high school – I was the first single female teacher and dorm supervisor in the English Department at the all-male Deerfield Academy in Massachusetts in the early 1980s, which is why I don’t have children.








Wendall Thomas, author connections:
Website: https://www.wendallthomas.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CydRedondoMysteries/