One Left Behind // Carla Kovach

The lovely morning, flooded with golden sunlight and with lush foliage spreading across the land, was now tainted by the death of a young girl and Gina clenched her hands. Whoever strangled her had to be caught and they had no time to waste.

Title:
 One Left Behind
Author:  Carla Kovach
Publisher: Bookoture, July 15, 2021
Format/Source: eBook, Publisher/Netgalley (ARC received from the publisher /Netgalley in exchange for an honest review)
ISBN: 9781800193956    

 

Five teenagers sneak out of their homes for a clandestine party in the woods. After a night of drinking, dancing, and tears, one is dead and the remaining four-along with several nearby residents angered by the kids’ loud music and prankish tendencies-are all suspects.

I have not read the previous novels in the Detective Gina Harte series, so I am reviewing it as a stand-alone. Please take that into consideration when reading my review.

For the most part, I enjoyed this story. The subplot with the mysterious messages Gina kept receiving was, I felt, simply a distraction and unnecessary to the story or character-especially since the conclusion of it was quite anti-climatic. And one or two of the characters felt forced. It’s as if they were there to provide more of a moral than benefit the story; a people-in-glass-houses type of thing. Also, from the summary, I expected Naomi and her missing hour to play a larger part in the story but, after the first chapter, she was only an afterthought. Her yellow handbag is even featured prominently on the cover, but she is nowhere near as integral to the story as the summary and cover would indicate. This was confusing.

These are but a few small complaints, however. The plot was very well woven around the characters. Most enjoyably, I did not guess who the killer was. No inkling at all. I also liked the interactions between the detective and her coworkers. There were plenty of viable suspects, and multiple points of view to tell the tale. And the descriptions of the sweltering summer heat were spot on; I could feel the stickiness and stagnation radiate from the pages.

This one was a quiet mystery, too slow-burning to make it a “read in one sitting” novel. It would, though, be a good one to pick up in your downtime and read for a few minutes. Easy to drop into the story and easy to drop out again makes it perfect for a bit of entertainment while waiting at the doctor’s office or in line at the school kiss-n-ride.

 

Rob Kaufman // The Perfect Ending

The Perfect Ending by Rob Kaufman book cover

Right now, all he required was a person or family with some sort of discord or dilemma and offer assistance pushing the lever—gently helping that kernel expand into something he could use as the primary plot.

Title: The Perfect Ending
Author:  Rob Kaufman
Publisher: Independent Book Publishers Association (IBPA), June 15, 2021
Format/Source: eBook, Publisher (ARC received from the publisher in exchange for an honest review)
ISBN: 9780578887760    

Our main character, thriller-suspense author Scott Atwood, is egocentric and haughty. He’s unmotivated. He’s promised to have a finished manuscript to his agent in two weeks, but he hasn’t even begun the manuscript in question because of a nasty case of writer’s block. In a panic, Scott decides the best option (following an attempt at ending it all by jumping in front of an oncoming train) is to unleash his inner Iago upon his unsuspecting neighbors and reap the inspiration he needs from the pain he sows. Panic in the neighborhood ensues.

It’s surprising how eagerly I read each page of this novel, despite the fact that Scott is not a person I empathized with at all. But the alternating POV chapters between Scott and his various victims kept the narrative humming right along, even when I intended to stop after “one more chapter”. The mind games, the dramatics, the simmering subplots…all of it pulled me in. I anticipated the big twist ending from the first chapter. Still, I was very satisfied with the final act. I knew what the end result would be, but not how it would play out. The Perfect Ending really has the perfect ending for this story. Highly recommended for anyone anxious to kill an afternoon with an entertaining thriller.

Keenan Powell // Hemlock Needle

Something was wrong. Maeve could feel it. She could see it in the secretary’s stolen glance as she bowed her head and turned away. She could tell by the way Arthur refused to look at her, pouring over the papers in his hand instead.

Title: Hemlock Needle
Author:  Keenan Powell
Publisher: Level Best Books, January 22, 2019
Format/Source: PDF, Publisher (I received an ARC of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review)
ISBN:  9781947915091    Series: Maeve Malloy

Attorney Maeve Malloy has just learned she is facing disbarment when an old friend shows up and pleads with Maeve to search for her missing daughter, Esther. Needing to fill the time until her hearing with the Bar, Maeve agrees and takes the request as a pro bono case. But Esther has been keeping secrets, and, when her beaten body is discovered in a snow berm, Maeve continues investigating. The closer Maeve gets, the more lies she uncovers; if she doesn’t find the truth fast, Maeve will end up too dead to be disbarred.

One of the things I enjoy most in Hemlock Needle is the relationship between Maeve and her investigator, Tom. Theirs is a connection strengthened by years of friendship, trust, and, refreshingly, not romance (although, the possibility of this changing in the future is deftly hinted at between the story’s lines). 

Additionally, Powell’s writing provides a strong sense of place for her setting of Anchorage, Alaska, with references to Yup’ik culture and imagery such as the “sun cresting the snow-covered Chugach mountains” and “grey blocks of ice” shifting “across Cook Inlet.” Her characters are solidly built, from the stoic Cora to the jaded Big Red. And the mystery itself is evenly paced and engaging; the more I learned about the victim, Esther, the more I related to her on a personal level.

In so many mysteries, the victim’s death is merely a prop designed to set the plot in motion and keep it moving. Not a bad thing, of course. I’ve enjoyed many mysteries where the victim is either inconsequential to the mystery (the sleuth just needs a case to solve for the plot) or so hated I’m okay with not knowing his or her life details. If a book has a victim I can feel for, though, the story’s tone is changed and the mystery is deepened. Hemlock Needle, for me, was one of these mysteries.

Debbie Young // Murder In The Manger

Ella pulled her copy out of her bag and opened it at the first page, which to my relief showed only a couple of tiny edits. I’d half-expected to see it covered in red ink with “Must try harder” scrawled across the title page.

 

Title: Murder In The Manger
Author: Debbie Young
Publisher: Hawkesbury Press, November 06, 2017
Format/Source: Paperback, Bookstore
ISBN: 9781911223221    Series: Sophie Sayers Village

 

Murder In The Manger is the third book in Debbie Young’s Sophie Sayers Village series but is the first I have read. Sophie has written the Christmas nativity play for her village, Wendlebury Barrow, but the surprise appearance of an ex-boyfriend and a mysterious woman with a baby threaten to ruin the production. Based on the back cover copy—which included the sentence “Before long, the whole village stands accused of murder”—I expected a lot more mystery and mayhem in this novel. What I found instead was a delightful holiday story with moments of suspense tucked in its nooks and crannies. There isn’t much sleuthing or nefarious goings on here, and the murder accusation doesn’t arrive until very near the end of the novel. Admittedly, as someone who adores a good mystery, this is a bit of a letdown, but the story has enough suspense to pull the reader through to the end.

Beyond the lack of real mystery, though, this is a captivating novel with a lovely village setting full of homey little shops and a cozy plot with lots of dry humor. If you are looking for a warm and light holiday mystery to read this Christmas, pick up Murder In The Manger; a visit with Sophie in festive Wendlebury Barrow is just what you need.

 

 

Gretchen Archer // Double Deck The Halls


One of my great-granddaughters—I couldn’t tell them  apart for love nor money; I called them both Sugar—pulled  her halo off her head and was trying to put it on Davis’s.  Davis peeked around it. “Granny, Bianca’s not here yet.” 

 

Title: Double Deck The Halls
Author:  Gretchen Archer
Publisher: Henery Press, November 02, 2017
Format/Source: ebook, Scribd
ISBN: 9781635113129    Series: Davis Way

 

Granny Dee provides the hilarious voice for this holiday short. She’s visiting Davis at the Bellissimo Casino for Christmas (and planning to win big at the casino’s Winter Wonderland Senior Slot Tournament). Instead, she finds herself in a “pickle” when she goes searching for an elf and finds Bianca, the wife of the casino owner, tied up in a chair with a bomb in her lap. Double Deck The Halls is a sweet and delightful mystery story full of humor and heart. It’s the small details that make Archer’s characters so vivid, such as the twins saying “ho ho ho” every time someone says the word Santa or Granny Dee’s touching memories of her first husband, Quinton. Archer’s writing is energetic and the story moves along swiftly. If you are looking for a quick burst of holiday cheer this season, you can’t go wrong with this one.

 

 

Tonya Kappes // Tangled Up in Tinsel


Seeing Poppa’s ghost was no big deal, I’d gotten used to it. The reason I was nervous about seeing his ghost was the fear. The only time the ghost of my Poppa came to see me was when there was a murder in Cottonwood.

 

Title: Tangled Up in Tinsel
Author:  Tonya Kappes
Publisher: Henery Press, September 25, 2018
Format/Source: ebook, Scribd
ISBN:  9781635113976  Series: Kenni Lowry

 

All Sheriff Kenni Lowry wants for Christmas this year is to make it out of Cottonwood. Her boyfriend/deputy, Finn, wants her to join his family in Chicago for the holidays and Kenni is determined to be there.  Unfortunately, her plans derail when a Christmas blizzard threatens to snow everyone in for a truly white Christmas and a young, troubled girl is murdered.

 

Highlights:

  • Poppa’s ghost is lively, and it’s adorable how doting and protective he still is of Kenni.

First, a lump or two of coal. The story’s flow is occasionally blocked by choppy dialogue and a plodding plot pace. And the ending is a bit exasperating (not to worry, everything is ultimately tied up neatly into a logical little bow). Tangled Up in Tinsel is still entertaining and a quick read (the book took me roughly the time of two or three Hallmark Christmas movies to finish it), it just felt a bit unpolished in places.

On to the good stuff. The mystery contained plenty of twists and red herrings to keep me guessing, but Kappes’s charming depictions of Cottonwood and its colorful townsfolk are why I kept reading. Kappes’s small-town touches to the story are spot-on. Another bright spot is the story’s humor. Kenni’s stubborn refusal to accept the possibility of a blizzard hitting the town before she can leave for Chicago and the antics of Kenni’s mother as she tries to become the town’s holiday Snow Queen (because, with Kenni out of town, “What else do I have to look forward to this Christmas?”) are priceless.

Tangled Up in Tinsel isn’t perfect, but it is fun. My suggestion? Fix up a hot mug of homemade hot chocolate, grab a handful of little candy canes to absentmindedly nom on, and cozy up under a warm afghan before you start reading. Not a shabby way to spend a December afternoon. Not at all.

 

Doris Miles Disney // Trick Or Treat

Only silence came from the inside the sheet. Two eyes stared at Edna through the holes cut for them; below was another hole for the mouth. Red Ridinghood called from the living room, “That’s a mighty quiet ghost you’ve got there, Edna. Scares me stiff.”

Title:  Trick Or Treat
Author:  Doris Miles Disney
Publisher: Doubleday & Company, Inc, 1955

An insurance investigator matches wits with a clever killer on a most unusual case. The victim, Edna Monroe, was killed by a ghost. She opened her door on Halloween night to hand out treats to a sheeted figure on her doorstep and was tricked in the worst way when the ghost pulled a gun from a paper bag and shot her dead, right there in her own hallway and right in the middle of the Halloween party she was hosting.

Her husband, Mike, has an airtight alibi; he was thousands of miles away in Texas. His secretary (and mistress), Linda Haines, can also account for her whereabouts at the time of poor Edna’s passing; she was out with some girls from work. But a $50,000 policy Mike had on Edna has the insurance company and their top claims adjuster, Jefferson DiMarco, asking questions. If neither the husband nor the mistress could have possibly done it, then who?

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