Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Cozy Up with these New Mysteries from Kensington…

Murder in an Irish Cottage by Carlene O’Connor
In the fifth Irish Village Mystery Series, Garda Siobhan O’Sullivan plans to spend her holiday with her five siblings in Kilbane, helping to run her family’s cafĂ©, named after their deceased mother, Namoi; her fiancĂ©, Macdara, is also a Garda, and when his cousin Jane calls for help, he and Siobhan, who is on holiday, go to Jane’s rural village where they find Ellen, Jane’s mother, dead, apparently smothered with a pillow, and perhaps poisoned by tea drunk from a nearby cup in the cottage that is scheduled to be demolished because the local villages insist the cottage, built on a local fairy path, is cursed.  The local Garda don’t take kindly to Siobhan and Macdara’s presence, but when a friend of theirs from school tells them that Ellen was far from the most popular person in the village, their suspect list increases exponentially.  The contrast and interplay between the more outgoing Siobhan, who isn’t ready to rule out Macdara’s cousin Jane as a suspect, and Macdara, who doesn’t want to think his cousin may have been involved in killer her mother, This Irish mystery is sure to charm readers new to the series as well as longtime fans, full of plenty of folklore, and a bit of fairy magic.

Death by Chocolate Frosted Donut Sarah Graves
Jacobia “Jake” Tiptree”, former Wall Street money manager, moved to Eastport, Maine over a decade ago after her bitter divorce, and hoping to get her son Sam away from the bad influences and friends he found in the city where she began to fix up her old house and, with the help of her friend Ellie, solved several murders.  Now Jake and Ellie run the Chocolate Moose, a chocolate bakery on the island, catering to locals and tourists, and currently, a host of pirates, young and old, during the town’s annual Pirate Festival.  In town for the festivities is Henry Hadlyme, an insufferable television food personality who likes nothing, including the Chocolate Moose.  After a very public argument with him, Hadlyme is found dead in the bakery’s basement, dead, run through with Jake’s husband’s sword, making her the prime suspect.  Though local police chief Bob Arnold is fairly certain Jake had nothing to do with the man’s death, she is still the prime suspect, and so Jake and Ellie fine themselves once again sleuthing, and before long, come up with a long list of other people, currently in Eastport, who are also not loosing much sleep over Hadlyme’s death.  Fans of Graves’s first long running series to feature Jake and Ellie, Home Repair is Homicide, will eat up this new series, focusing on the chocolate bakery, but with all the Northeast island charm they’ve come to know and love; readers new to Eastport will not be at a disadvantage, however.  Plenty of chocolate baked goods, impish pirates, and plenty of seafaring, including a mysterious ship firing on the town, add to this cozy mystery.

Statue of Limitations by Kate Collins
The author of the Flower Shop series returns with the first in an all new series with a gardening theme.  Recently divorced Athena returns to her coastal Michigan hometown with her son to work in her family’s garden center.  Alone in the center one night, Athena finds someone trying to steal a life-sized statue of the goddess Athena, claiming that it is his family’s, and that her grandfather had no right to buy it for his Greek restaurant.  Adding to her headaches, all the shops on Greene Street, where her family has their shop, are slated to be torn down to make room for more condos after the project was cancelled by the family’s patriarch, who then suddenly died.  A second murder makes Athena suspicious, and when her grandparents are approached by the developer sweetening the deal for them to sell, Athena kicks into high gear to save Little Greece and keep her family businesses thriving.  Blogging about her family’s antics, who do not realize they are the subjects of the entertaining blog, help Athena work out some of her frustrations and see things in a different light.  With delightful characters and a close-knit Greek community, fans of Collins’s last series will be delighted to see her back.

Murder Makes Scents by Christin Brecher
The second mystery to feature Nantucket candle maker Stella Wright finds Stella and her mom, Millie, a perfume expert, recently returned from a perfume conference in Paris where Millie wasn’t able to sit on the panel “The Art of Scent Extractions” as it was cancelled after a murder.  Back at home, Stella receives a note threatening her mother who the note’s writer claimed smuggled a secret fragrance formula out of Paris.  A host of zany characters at Stella’s cousin Airbnb, mixed in with the cast of locals, keeps things light as Stella searches for a trans-Atlantic killer as she is about to celebrate a milestone birthday.

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

It's Leap Year!

Which means an extra day this year to read all the books coming out in February...

Pretty as a Picture by Elizabeth Little
Film editor Marissa Dahl has had a string of less than stellar assignments, owing, perhaps to her quirky personality and behavior; she has a good eye for editing, though, and is hired as the replacement editor for legendary director Tony Rees on a film depicting the unsolved murder of a young starlet decades ago.  Marissa doesn’t learn much about the assignment other than it requires her to travel to Kickout Island, a small island off the coast of Delaware and a long non-disclosure agreement.  Once she arrives, she doesn’t learn much else about the production, other than it has been riddle with accidents, firings, and more rumors than she would normally expect on a movie set.  At the hotel she meets two teenage girls, Grace Portillo and Suzy Koh, intent on solving the murder, drawing Marissa, who they realize can access “insider information” under the guise of research for work, into the investigation.  Full of movie references and industry gossip, this sophomore thriller intersperses a post-production podcast providing additional details into Marissa’s time in on the set and subsequent film references.

Mercy House by Alena Dillon
Sister Evelyn and like-minded nuns run Mercy House in Brooklyn’s Bedford-Stuyvesant section.  Once known as a very dangerous section, Bed-Sty is slowly gentrifying, though not fast enough for some women suffering abuse.  Evelyn and the other nuns, who enjoy more freedoms since Vatican II, minister to these women, helping them in any way they can, giving them refuge, holding daily Reiki sessions, even hand holding through divorce and abortions, all of which are strictly forbidden by Canon Law.  When Bishop Hawkins arrives on their doorstep as part of a country-wide audit of orders of Religious Women, who realize they must live in the here and now if they are to truly help people, along with Evelyn’s soul searching and need to forgive herself, and the possibility of losing everything she has built over the year, makes this a realistic story with with broad appeal and book group potential.

All the Best Lies by Johanna Schaffhausen
Over a decade ago, FBI agent Reed Markham rescued a then   Now, that teenager is Ellery Hathaway, a policeman from Boston who has been suspended pending the outcome of an investigation deeming her fit for duty.  Reed, having just learned that the man he thought was his adoptive father, State Senator Angus Markham, is actually his biological father and decides it’s time to investigate his mother’s murder, a crime that occurred over forty years ago with a young Reed, then Joey, lying in a crib in the next bedroom.  With a clear calendar for the foreseeable future, Ellery agrees to travel to Las Vegas, where the crime occurred, with Reed to discover what happened to Camilla.  At first, Reed gets a lot of cooperation from the local law enforcement, but soon gets pushback, though he’s not sure if they don’t want their resources going to a decades old murder, or if someone knows something they want to hide.  One thing is clear, what Reed learns along the way is enough to destroy certain people and the lives they’ve created for themselves, including his own.  At the same time, Ellery’s long estranged father is reaching out to her and she must decide if she is willing to let him back into her life, and for how long.  A growing relationship adds to tensions between Reed and Ellery as they each struggle to overcome their pasts and shape their futures.  This outstanding second entry into a series with strong, complex, compelling characters will appeal to fans of Julie Keller. 
teen aged Abby Hathaway from a killer.

The Holdout by Graham Moore
Ten years ago, an LA jury acquitted Bobby Nock, an African American teacher of killing his 15-year-old student Jessica Silver, with whom he was having an affair.  Maya Seale, now a defense attorney was the only original not guilty vote, and was able to convince her fellow jurors to acquit.  Now, the jurors are reassembling for a docuseries on the case and fellow juror Rick claims to have evidence refuting their verdict, even though Jessica’s body has never been found. Rick’s body is found in Maya’s hotel room and she becomes the number one suspect and not investigates with all the zeal of an attorney in order to clear her name.  Told in the present through Maya’s eyes, and in the past by each juror, this legal thriller has plenty of twists and turns, and drawn out tension until the very end. 

Oona Out of Order by Margarita Montimore
At the stroke of midnight each New Year’s Eve, beginning in 1982 as she is about to turn nineteen, Oona Lockhart leaps to a different age, which she will be for one year, until she makes the next leap.  Her first leap is into 2015 when she is 51…but in her mind, she knows she is still nineteen, trying to decide whether she should go on tour with her band and boyfriend Dale, or move to London and continue her studies.  In 2015, Oona has no idea which she chose, and spends the year of her first leap trying to settle into her new life, a life which her mother and her friend and confidant Kenzie have reached chronological; knowing what has happened with Oona along the way, they try to ease her into her current reality without causing too much shock.  Just as Oona is set in 2015, the ball drops again and she leaps into another year.  Eventually, Oona gets the hang of leaping, and tries to enjoy being a club-hopping party girl in one year, and the wife of a struggling restaurateur the next.  Each year, Oona writes herself a note before her leap, hoping she can be her best self in the next year, knowing it probably won’t happen.  Oona learns to handle her fate with grace and humor, and learns to lean on her mother and Kenzie, accepting what they will and won’t tell her.  Oona is a heartfelt character readers will fall in love with as she navigates her fate; she learns to look forward to her future, even if it is really her past.

No Bad Deed by Heather Chavez
On the way home to her family one rainy night, veterinarian Cassie Larkin sees a man attacking a woman on the side of the road; Cassie calls 911 and then jumps out of her car to help the woman with little disregard for her own safety. The attacker threatens Cassie to leave the woman alone, and then steals Cassie’s car.  Cassie is shaken as the attacker has her car and can find where she and her husband Sam live with their two children Leo and Audrey.  The next night, Sam is trick-or-treating with Audrey, calls Cassie and says “we need to talk” and then disappears.  It seems to Cassie Sam has been having an affair and wants out of their marriage; but then threats begin, and someone is very close to her family, but why and who, has something against Cassie, she cannot fathom.  One thing is clear, Carver Sweet hates her: but who is he, and why does he hate Cassie so much?  Desperate, Cassie turns to her somewhat estranged father Red who provides the answers Cassie needs to locate her husband and children, and to unlock a past that has been kept well hidden.  This well paced-plot slowly reveals the necessary details until everything falls into place for Cassie, a strong protagonist, who summons everything she has to save her family.

Minor Dramas & Other Catastrophes by Kathleen West
Helicopter Mom Julia Abbott lives for her children in the upscale neighborhood of Liston Heights, Minnesota; all her energies and activities are channeled toward her children, so much so that when she pops into school to see if her son Andrew has made the cast list for the upcoming musical, she accidentally elbows a student which is, of courses caught on a phone and goes viral, sending Julia into a downward spiral.  English teacher Isobel Johnson is loved by the students, but not so much by the parents; Isobel’s progressive curriculum pushes the envelope with the conservative community as she explores social issues such as the motherhood penalty, white savior complex, and explores queer theory alongside The Great Gatsby.  A pop-up Facebook group for parents of Liston Heights High gives the parents an open forum to complain about teachers, and each other, proving that it’s not just the students who can be the mean girls in high school.  West lets no one off the hook as she explores parents, school administrators, and teachers, all profess to have the best interests of the children at heart, but who, under a microscope are all being pulled in many directions, not all of which align with the students’ needs.  A frank portrait of an elite high school and its community shown through the eyes of the adults. 

The Lucky One by Lori Rader-Day
As a child, Alice Fine was kidnapped from her backyard, but rescued within 24-hours by her policeman father who immediately moved his family to Chicago where he joined his family construction firm; Alice hasn’t forgotten the ordeal and feels there is something she knows about her kidnapping that is just out of her reach and volunteers for the Doe Pages, a site dedicated to finding missing people hoping to remember an important piece of her past.  When she recognizes the man she believes to be her kidnapper as a recent missing person post, Alice knows it’s time to step up her search.  At the same   time, Merrily Cruz is searching for a man she knows as her not-quite-step-father.  When Alice and Merrily’s searches and paths ross, old lies and secrets are revealed and the two must detangle a web of deception that has been been with them almost their entire lives in this twisty thriller, the latest from Anthony and Mary Higgins Clark winner Rader-Day.

A Good Neighborhood by Therese Anne Fowler
Seventeen-year-old Juniper Whitman and her family, mother, Julie, step-father Brad, and younger sister Lily, have moved to the Oak Knoll neighborhood in North Carolina; they had, what the neighbors consider, an extravagant house built on a lot they cleared, to the distress of their backyard neighbor Valerie Alston-Holt, all the trees, and possibly have damaged her oak tree in the process: an oak tree that becomes a metaphor for her son Xavier.  Julie, who came from a poor background, and was a single mother for almost ten years, often seems almost grateful to Brad for choosing her; Brad is gregarious and outgoing, the owner of a successful HVAC company he built from the ground up, but he has an edge to him, such as mistaking Xavier, who is half-black, as a hired hand when Brad sees him cleaning up his yard, which his family either fails to see or overlooks.  Juniper, who has taken a pledge of purity, and Xavier are drawn to each other, a relationship they keep from the Whitmans; when Valerie sues Brad Whitman and the company that built his house over her dying oak tree, things Brad’s true personality emerges, and things spiral out of control to the point of no return. Family dynamics are complicated, relationships with neighbors are complicated, and many social issues are touched upon: ecology, modern day race relations, and sexual harassment, in this first modern day novel from Fowler; back stories and commentary is provided by a first person plural narrator, much like a Greek chorus, claiming to represent the neighborhood.  Fans of Jodi Picoult and Southern family fiction will enjoy this; book groups will find a lot to discuss.

Dead to Her by Sarah Pinborough
Marcie is Jason Maddox’s second wife and knows how hard it is to be accepted into the elite social crowd of Georgia, all the while under the scrutiny of the legacy Southern belles, yet she can’t help but feel a little superior to Keisha when her husband, William Radford, many years her senior, returns from London with his new bride.  Marcia begins to suspect Jason and Keisha have a mutual attraction and befriends Keisha if for no other reason, than to keep an eye on her.  Keisha has her own agenda, encouraged by a ragtag assortment of relatives, con men and voodoo women, and very few people are surprised when William is found near death.  The surprise comes when they learn who else is a suspect in the attack, and who sides with whom, all leading up to a final evil twist that some readers might think they see coming, but as with Pinborough’s earlier novels, nothing is ever as simple as it seems.

Saint X by Alexis Schaitkin
What begins as a quiet story of a vacation in paradise turns deadly when a teenage girl’s body is found in a cay and two local men arrested, but then quickly released; years later in New York, Alison’s sister Claire searches for answers as to what happened to her sister on the island and learns more about the sister she realizes she never really knew as she follows one of the men arrested in connection with her sister’s disappearance..  This family drama slowly draws readers in as a search for the truth that turns into an obsession.  This debut novel will be hard to put down, but it deserves to be read slowly so as not to miss a thing. 

Watching from the Dark by Gytha Lodge
Late one night, Aidan Poole is Skyping with his girlfriend Zoe when he hears sounds of a struggle off screen.  Aidan is desperate to learn what has happened to Zoe, but delays in calling the police and reports the incident anonymously.  Detective Jonah Sheens is suspicious from the very beginning and wants to find out who reported the incident certain it will lead to a suspect.  As the police investigate, they uncover many suspects who might have killed Zoe in a fit of passion or in a jealous rage.  The months leading up to her murder are told from her point of view, exploring the relationship between her and Aidan, her roommate and best friend, Maeve and Angeline, and a co-worker Victor who was carrying a torch for Zoe.  As each person and their relationship with Zoe is revealed, it becomes even more unclear who may have murdered her.  The narrative is effective, told in alternating timelines, making a good case for several suspects, but only one was crafty enough to almost get away with murder.  This sophomore effort from Lodge is every bit as compelling as her first thriller, She Lies in Wait. 

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