Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Murder Gone A-Rye - Nancy J. Parra

Murder Gone A-Rye
A Baker’s Treat Mystery
Nancy J. Parra
Berkley Prime Crime

For most of the country, Thanksgiving means turkey and maybe the Macy’s Parade.  In Oiltop, Kansas, it also means Homer Everett Day, complete with a parade and a carnival.  Homer was a native son who found success on the football field, making it to the pros.  Then he went to war, during which his bravery earned him the Congressional Medal Of Honor.  After all of that, he returned to Oiltop where he was immediately elected mayor.  Today, his large shoes are filled by his son, Hutch.  All of this is to explain why Toni Holmes is working on a parade float as the book opens, instead of baking gluten-free treats at her bakery.
And what would a holiday be without a relative in jail?  Grandma Ruth calls, thrilled that she’s been “arrested” for the murder of Lois Striker, a local woman.  Grandma Ruth is 90 and rides a scooter everywhere.  The police found scooter tire prints near the body.  In truth, Grandma Ruth is only there to be questioned.  She’s never let go of her job as an investigative reporter, so she’s questioning the police right back.  She tells Toni that she’s sure this death has something to do with Homer Everett, who died in the 1970s.  The case was quite cold until Grandma Ruth got ahold of it, and now with Lois’ death, it looks like maybe something is afoot in the small town.
I’m really torn about this book.   On the one hand, the mystery plotline is quite interesting, and not easy to solve, since most of the background happened fifty years prior.  The way the author tells the story is unique, too.  At the outset, various characters are finding out about Lois’ death by word of mouth; exactly as they would, in a small town.  The reader hasn’t met Lois, hasn’t seen the crime scene, and doesn’t even know exactly how she died.  Toni gets pulled into the investigation through the actions of her Grandma Ruth, who claims that her investigation (Ruth’s) of an old crime is what got Lois killed.  This leaves the reader to find more information along with Toni.
If you read my review of GLUTEN FOR PUNISHMENT, you know that I enjoyed Grandma Ruth’s irrepressible nature at that time.  But, if you’ve read here for any length of time, you know that my tolerance for ‘zany’ is quite low.  Sadly, Grandma Ruth has zoomed right past ‘entertinaing,’ and now exists firmly on the ‘whacky’ side of things.  This is too bad, because her continuously escalating antics unfairly divert attention from the plot, and served only to irritate me.  Readers who enjoy this kind of character will obviously have a better time with it than I did.  As I said, the underlying mystery was an interesting and unusual one, with twists happening right up to the end.  There’s a subplot involving a boy and his dog that is most effective and touching without being heavy-handed. There’s enough here for me to like – including some recipes for gluten-free treats – that I’ll be making at least one return trip to Oiltop.
Rating: 6 ½
June 2014
ISBN# 978-0-425-52544-4 (paperback)

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Cross-Stitch Before Dying - Amanda Lee

Cross-Stitch Before Dying
An Embroidery Mystery
Amanda Lee

Beverly Singer wants The Seven Year Stitch, her daughter Marcy’s shop, to go Hollywood.  Actually, she wants the stitchers to go Bollywood.  As a well-known costume designer, Beverly is working on a new film depicting the life story of one of Bollywood’s early stars.  The costumes will take an army of hands to stitch, embellish, and embroider.  Marcy and several of her steady customers are up for the challenge, including Reggie Singh, who’s thrilled to be able to use/showcase some of her stitching talents.

Hollywood moves ever closer when location scouts decide that a spot outside town would be a great substitute for a town in India.  The production arrives soon after, and Marcy immediately gets a dose of the downside of working with stars.  This is supposed to be a comeback vehicle for Babs Tru (BTru, if you read the tabloids.)  Launched as a child star, lost in her teens to drugs and alcohol, now ready for her redemption arc, Babs is not exactly radiating gratitude for this chance.  She’s being especially horrible to Beverly.  Somehow, all of Babs’ costumes are too small.  Beverly blames the craft services table, while Babs blames Beverly.  It gets loud at one point, before Babs stalks off in a fury.  Later, she’s found, dead.
Naturally, suspicion falls on Beverly.  Even though she’s highly respected in her field, she was the last person to have a fight with Babs.  But there are plenty of other people around who might have had a hand in it, for all kinds of reasons.  It could have been someone who wanted to stop the movie from being made at all.  Or someone who objected to the movie being shot in the U.S.  It could have been one of the many people who had it in for BTru, who did leave a trail of destruction in her wake.  Everyone, on the set and around it, is a suspect.  But Marcy’s not going to let anyone railroad her mom.
This is the Marcy I missed in the last installment (see below for list.)  Obviously, she stands behind her mom, knows she didn’t do it, and will do whatever she can to help prove that.  There’s a nice subplot on this one for Beverly; it’s hard not to feel it along with her as she tries to see longtime friends in new and possibly unflattering lights.  There’s also a subplot that lets a speeding bank robber start the book with a bang (gunshot.)  I tend to like this series better when Beverly is involved, but now that Marcy is settled, she’s really growing on me as a character.  A very entertaining entry in a fun series.
Rating: 7 ½
August 2013
ISBN# 978-0-451-24007-1 (paperback)

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Saturday, June 07, 2014

Witches In Red - Barb Hendee

Witches In Red
A Novel Of The Mist-Torn Witches
Barb Hendee


After much turmoil, sisters Celine and Amelie are settling into their new home and apothecary shop.  Living in the midst of peace and prosperity is still a novelty to both, and neither truly trusts in it yet.  As Celine waits for the other shoe to drop, Amelie finds herself at loose ends.  In the past, her role was to protect and provide for her sister, the healer.  Now, there’s no need for that, and while Celine continues her role as healer and seer of the future, Amelie is coping with her feelings of restlessness in addition to her newfound ability to see the past.
Both sisters’ immediate problems seem to be solved when Lt. Jaromir, Prince Anton’s personal guard, comes to the sisters with a request.  Since the two (and Jaromir) were instrumental in solving a series of murders in the castle (THE MIST-TORN WITCHES) Prince Anton asks for their help again.  There is a silver mining camp far to the north, populated by the miners who toil, and the soldiers who guard and transport.  There are all the usual tensions between the two groups, but now men are dying.  The stories that reach Prince Lievan, father of Prince Anton, tell of men suddenly turning into huge beasts and turning on their fellows, tearing them apart.  And far worse: the silver has stopped flowing into Prince Lievan’s coffers.
If there is some sickness among the men, Celine and her healing arts may be able to stop it.  If there’s something more malevolent going on, then the two seer sisters will be invaluable in identifying the culprits.  Of course, Jaromir and several men will accompany them, presenting them as ladies of Anton’s court, come to practice their ‘seeing’ skills.  The knowledge that the handling of this situation is a test for Anton only puts more responsibility and stress on the shoulders of Celine and Amelie.  Should they fail, Anton fails in his father’s eyes as well.     
The author manages to mix fantasy and mystery to great effect.  The scenes are set perfectly; the world inhabited by the characters is quite solid and real.  There is a bit of a detour during the story, away from the central mystery, but it really serves to broaden our understanding of Celine and Amelie.  The motive behind things was a bit weak, I thought, but the story itself was so much fun it really didn’t much matter.  This is the second book in a very solid series. I always look forward to Ms. Hendee’s books.  I enjoy her fascinating method of constructing a story.
Rating: 7 ½
May 2014
ISBN# 978-0-451-41416-8 (paperback)