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Category: Mystery, Thriller & Suspense

Review: Murder in the Afternoon by Frances Brody

[ 1 ] September 28, 2014

12139433Reviewed by Caleb Shadis

Murder in the Afternoon is the third book in the Kate Shackleton mystery series and I’m now putting the first two on my wishlist. This is  a good book for those that enjoy the English cozy murder mystery along the lines of Agatha Christie et.al. I thought the book felt a little slow but I somewhat attribute that to not having read the first two installments in the series. It didn’t take me too long to get into the story and before I knew it, I was arriving at the end!

Harriet and her brother Austin are bringing their father a bit of supper at the quarry where he is working on a Saturday evening since he hasn’t come home. When they arrive it is very quiet, no one is working and their father doesn’t respond to the calling whistle. Harriet goes into the quarry and finds her dad laying on the floor of his workshop. He isn’t moving and he will not wake up. Harrier and Austin rush to the nearest neighbors for help but when they return there is no sign of a body or foul play.

After a search with nothing turning up, the constable decides this is just a case of a man who has had enough and left his family. This is where Kate is brought in. The big shock to Kate is that the wife of the missing man is Kate’s sister. Kate was adopted out and has never met any of her birth relatives. So Kate gets more than she bargained for…

While I felt the story seemed to have a slow start, I got over that fairly quickly and was pulled into the story, wanting to know what was going on and who was behind it all. Like many of the best mysteries, this one had a few good false trails and some dirty little secrets that got in the way of finding the murderer. To be honest, I was surprised when I found out who the guilty person really was–the culprit was not even on my radar and that doesn’t happen very often. The surprise ending along with the good writing means that I will be reading more of Kate Shackleton!

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

Caleb is a software engineer and amateur woodworker living in southern Minnesota. He has more hobbies than he has time or money for, and enjoys his quiet time reading.

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Minotaur Books. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.

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Review: The Marco Effect by Jussi Adler-Olson

[ 4 ] September 24, 2014

Reviewed by Caleb Shadis

I gave this book four stars, but it barely squeaked it out. The ending more than made up for what I didn’t like earlier in the book. I don’t know if reading one of the four earlier books in the series would have made a difference, but I found that in not knowing the background of the main character I was less disposed perhaps than other readers would be to like him.

Carl, a detective in the police department, is an unapologetic asshole. He is obnoxious, self-absorbed, opinionated, belittling, and condescending to others; he is supposed to be this great detective that solves cold cases. All I saw was a jerk who happened to have spotted and retained two very good assistants.

The Marco Effect is primarily about Marco Jameson, a teenager living a life of hell under his Uncle Zola, the head of the ‘family’ and de facto crime lord and dictator. The children steal and beg for Zola’s gain. Everyone is used in some capacity, and all obey Zola or pay a heavy price, usually in beatings. All of the family is illegally in Denmark, so Zola holds his position of legality over them. Controlling the children is easier if they are ignorant, so none of the children are taught—at least, not taught what they would learn in schools.

Marco is different: he is bright and inquisitive, he has taught himself how to read, and he spends all his spare time reading and learning. As he becomes more educated he also becomes unhappier with his predicament. Consequently, he is one of the few willing to try and stand up to Zola, which not even his father is willing to do. Marco overhears a plan for his future that scares him enough to run away. Marco thought he would be safe once out of the clutches of his uncle…but he discovers proof of a terrible crime that forever changes his future.

The piece Marco discovers is a small but important one dealing with a large international con scheme bilking the Danish government out of two-hundred-fifty million Kroner disguised as foreign aid to the Congo. Those stealing that amount of money can pay others to bury evidence and witnesses. All of a sudden, Marco is a very important asset to find and neutralize, not just capture and punish.

Marco’s story was excellent and kept me reading to the end. If I did not have such a terrible dislike for Carl from the beginning, The Marco Effect would likely have made it to four-and-a-half stars. There were a lot of story-lines going on in this book, and a couple very good twists kept things exciting. The writing was done well, so that sometimes you wanted some of the bad guys to survive, even when you knew they should be caught and punished.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

Caleb is a software engineer and amateur woodworker living in southern Minnesota. He has more hobbies than he has time or money for, and enjoys his quiet time reading.

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Dutton Adult. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.

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Blog Tour: Spy Island by Sophie Schiller

[ 4 ] September 24, 2014

New SpyPlease join Sophie Schiller, author of Spy Island, as she tours the blogosphere with Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours!

Reviewed by Marisa Deshaies

In the heart of World War I, two young adults find friendship and love through adversity on the tiny Caribbean Island of St. Thomas. Spy Island, by native West Indies author Sophie Schiller, brings to light the challenges of island life in the early 1900s Caribbean and shows that the choices made are often much more layered than a simple decision allows.

Left an orphan in her late teens, Abigail Maduro is sent to St. Thomas to live with her eccentric spinster aunt in a dilapidated house on an island slowly losing its wealth and prestige amongst the Caribbean islands. Abigail loves intrigue, mysteries, history, and current events—all catalysts for the political currents being stirred amongst the local St. Thomas natives, Dutch colonialists, and German spies infiltrating the island. Left to fend for herself with little to do on the island, Abigail befriends a deserter of the German army—her mind says her decision is dangerous but her heart says to show him compassion. As the Americans, Dutch, and Germans fight for the rights of St. Thomas as a colony, Abigail and Erich must cautiously navigate their way amongst those who could hurt Erich’s chances of survival and the Maduro family’s good name amongst St. Thomas’ elite.

Historical fiction novel Spy Island is a story that will resonate with its readers for its rich cultural and historical facts. These are embedded so well into the plots and characters of the novel that it is hard to believe that the people of St. Thomas are not walking right along with you. Schiller grew up in the West Indies, and it is obvious that her knowledge and love of her homeland fueled her characterization and plotlines. From the local dialect spoken by St. Thomas natives to facts of German, Dutch, American, and West Indies position during World War I, Spy Island brims with the intrigue and locality of the times that only someone with cultural experience of the setting can truly invoke into a story.

Spy Island’s strength lies in its historical setting of a Caribbean island during World War I. Novels taking place during this time period are not as readily written about as those during World War II. Schiller’s decision to set her novel in 1916 is much appreciated because of the uniqueness and the new knowledge of the Caribbean’s significance to the war not previously known.

Nevertheless, Spy Island’s prose and language were difficult to get through for lengthy descriptions and challenging dialog. As much as the local dialect was appreciated in terms of the novel’s characterizations, the over-emphasis of the Caribbean-flavored language was used too strongly for realistic purposes. The incorrect grammar was a challenge to accept constantly and the focus needed to understand the dialog took away from the rest of the story. In addition, Abigail and Erich’s dialog felt stilted and unnatural, especially in their conversations with each other. They did not speak to each other as “best friends,” – their term for their relationship for a majority of the book – would talk in informal and casual ways. Abigail tends to jump around in her conversations with other characters, which is incredibly hard to believe because a majority of people are able to focus in their conversations. Erich, on the other hand, details his experiences so much that his story almost becomes boring.

Spy Island’s characters are likable at best and challenging at worst. Abigail’s situation is devastating, and readers will find the hardships she experiences heart-wrenching. Her Aunt Esther is truly a horrendous person; despite Aunt Esther’s unfortunate circumstances, the actions she takes against her niece are unspeakable. However, Abigail’s behaviors are not completely understandable—can a teenager truly justify tantrums and backtalk to an adult? In addition, the bravery—or possibly stupidity, depending on reader perspective—and circumstances Abigail finds herself in are not always realistic. Abigail’s nanny, Nana Jane, and her cook, Cooky Betty, however, are hysterical in their conversations and actions. These two old St. Thomas women take many of the dry scenes in the Maduro house and turn them into laughable scenarios. Schiller’s ability to evoke the true sense of daily Caribbean life is a breath of fresh air in Spy Island.

This novel is recommended for readers who enjoy historical fiction.

Rating: ★★★½☆ 

An alumna of the University of Delaware’s English department, Marisa holds a Master’s degree in professional writing from New England College. Her dream job is to work as an editor for a publishing company. A voracious reader of all types of literature, her favorite genres include the classics, contemporary and historical fiction, Christian fiction, and women’s “chick-lit”.

Review copy was provided by Sophie Schiller. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.

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Review: Blood Line by John Davis

[ 1 ] September 15, 2014

Blood-Line-cover-500-337x500Reviewed by Meghan Hyden

Ron and Val are married.  They are living a nice, peaceful life until one night when two men break into their home and try to kidnap their 16-year-old daughter, Leecy.  The secrets that they have been keeping for years, especially from their daughter, are now out in the open.  After taking out the two perpetrators and contacting a friend on the police force, they think that everything is going perfectly – until the FBI show up.  Now they have to run to protect themselves, having no idea who they can trust, all the while figuring out the mystery of who wanted to kidnap Leecy and why they are after their family in the first place.

Blood Line was a lot of fun to read.  I instantly felt a connection with this family and, in turn, disliked the people who were against them.  The daughter, Leecy, is my favorite – she handles everything a lot better than I thought she would and really shows just how smart she is in different situations throughout the book.  It’s also neat to see just how much she is like both her mother and her father.  The character portrayal and the descriptions of the scenes are great and make it so easy to see what the author is writing inside your head.

The whole story is full of adventure, from the very first pages, and it kept me so interested that I read the whole thing in one day.  The surprises and twists were unexpected and those, plus the characters, were what made it very hard for me to put the book down.  I like adventure books that are exciting from the very beginning, and in this one, there is always something happening.  It makes the descriptions of things that happened in the past a lot more fun because at the same time as learning something, you’re also kind of panicking, hoping they’ll make it past each moment.

Blood Line was also very well written.  I usually have an issue with first person books because, if not done correctly, they can come across as awkward. Blood Line is definitely not awkward. It flows easily and I really enjoyed seeing how the characters grew closer together throughout the whole ordeal.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

You can find Meghan (that’s Meghan spelled the right way) over on her book-ish blog The Gal in the Blue Mask. She’s an avid reader, a book editor, a story teller, a purveyor of delectable fare and pulchritudinous confections, and the best aunt in the world. She loves gardening, hiking, cooking and spending time at the zoo, library and museums. She may not be able to find her wallet, car keys or sunglasses, but she always knows where her Kindle is.

Review copy was provided by John Davis. Compensation was received but in no way influenced the thoughts and opinions expressed in this review.

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Review: The Heist by Daniel Silva

[ 2 ] September 14, 2014

51LEPFYYjRLReviewed by Caleb Shadis

The Heist is the 14th Gabriel Allon book and I enjoyed this one even more than the last couple I’ve read.  Some of the books, especially the ones with Ivan, can get a bit on the gruesome side with very detailed accounts of all the nasty things people can do to each other. This one skips over most of the gore and it’s much more an international spy thriller–James Bond meets Mission Impossible.

Gabriel has been collecting a large list of ‘friends’ whose sense of right and wrong and what laws to abide by vary greatly. This time around he gets them all to help him pull off the worlds biggest heist. He started it all because his friend Isherwood happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Julian Isherwood went to a villa in Italy to discuss the sale of some artwork and what he found was artwork of a different kind. The man he went to see had been beaten to death by professionals. This put Julian in a bad spot and it was used to get Gabriel to look into the matter. Apparently the dead man was a fence for priceless stolen paintings, and the rumors were he was selling a very sought after piece, which might have had something to do with his demise. Someone has been buying up all the stolen artwork they can lay their hands on and this is a common way for the rich to hide money for safekeeping.

Gabriel gets all the criminals he has had associations with together to put on a sting like none other. The first order of business is to try and identify this mysterious buyer.  To do so, Gabriel needs a very tempting piece of artwork and the easiest way to get a stolen painting to sell is to steal one.

While I like all of the Gabriel Allon books I have read, this is one I’ve enjoyed reading the most.  I don’t mind the dark ones, with the gruesome details of death and torture, but this one proves Gabriel doesn’t need it. I do like how each book in the series targets people and places to showcase the terrible things governments and other groups do to people because they can. Silva is trying and I believe succeeding in bringing to light many atrocities that have and continue to happen around the globe.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

Caleb is a software engineer and amateur woodworker living in southern Minnesota. He has more hobbies than he has time or money for, and enjoys his quiet time reading.

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Harper. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.

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Review: Doing It at the Dixie Dew by Ruth Moose

[ 2 ] September 8, 2014

Doing It at the Dixie DewReviewed by Charity Lyman

When I was given the opportunity to review Doing It at the Dixie Dew, I jumped at the chance. After all, a good mystery combined with a southern town and unique characters is something I always enjoy. I have not read anything else from Ruth Moose before but have heard great things about this new book and decided to jump right in!

The book opens with Lavinia Plum dying in a bed and breakfast. Yep, an eye opener on that one! The bed and breakfast is run by Beth McKenzie. The mansion originally belonged to her grandmother, Mama Alice and she grew up in it. But now she wants to turn it into a comfortable place for visitors or people passing through Littleboro, North Carolina. Of course, that all depends on if she can actually keep them alive. Because soon after Lavinia checks in, she checks out for real. As in cashes in her chips and moves on to the great beyond. Then not three days later Father Roderick is strangled in his own chapel. What has the town of Littleboro come to! As Beth unravels the mystery she realizes that her own life is in danger and she wonders if she will make it through.

The town of Littleboro is quaint and charming though there is evil lurking in the air. Beth is joined by some wonderful and amusing characters including Scott, her handyman who is helping restore the mansion, Reba, who is a bit crazy and often wanders into peoples homes in their absence and takes a bath, Verna, her friend and shocking neighbor, and Malinda, her best friend at the drug store. I thoroughly fell in love with all of them even though some are a bit strange. The only thing I didn’t like was the language. There were several swear words throughout the book–just a heads up for those who want to know. I am not talking just a few nor are they in every chapter but there were more than I expected. There was also one scene that was somewhat intimate–not explicit but still there. Overall, an interesting book with an ending I did not quite see coming. I enjoyed visiting the town of Littleboro, North Carolina for a while. Maybe I can return sometime!

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

Charity lives in Illinois and is the oldest of 6 children. The family also has 3 dogs and a cat. Reading is a hobby when not cooking, baking, sewing or enjoying music. She reads many different genres but Christian fiction is a favorite. Charity can be found often at her blog, Giveaway Lady.

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Minotaur Books. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.

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