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Tag: "mystery"

Blog Tour: Afloat by Erin Healy

[ 2 ] June 14, 2013

afloat1Please welcome Erin Healy, author of Afloat, who is touring the blogosphere with Litfuse Publicity!

Reviewed by Marcus Hammond

In Erin Healy’s Afloat, a large group of people becomes stranded on a developing condominium complex after a series of man-made and natural disasters cut of all their routes of escape. The power of forgiveness and love is contrasted with the power of selfishness and greed as the group tries to escape and survive the uncertainty of the situation.

The central character of the story is Vance Nolan. Vance is the architect of the Eagle’s Talon condominium complex. Eagle’s Talon is meant to be the first floating condo resort. The buildings are designed to float on steel support beams in the waters of a quiet cove. Chaos soon enters Vance’s life when one of the docks suddenly breaks apart and falls into the cove. Vance’s dream of creating something wonderful begins to fall apart as his project financier begins to push for Vance to lay off his workers in response to the accident. Before that happens, however, rain moves in and creates an end of the world scenario for all those working and living at the site. With all escape routes flooded, each person stranded in the cove begin to show their true colors. Some of the people who are stranded wish to help each other wait out the catastrophe, while others seek self-preservation.

Afloat is a complex tale of human emotion that links directly into the power of spirituality. For Vance, the catastrophe brings a flood of early childhood memories while others try to figure out how to survive at any cost, human or emotional. Each character is faced with physical, emotional, and spiritual danger; however, it is faith in God that helps those who survive find strength.

While the novel is strongly rooted in the Christian inspiration style of writing, Healy does a great job of making the struggles Vance and the other characters face feel universal. God and faith are ever-present as certain characters experience a divine force working within the group, but each action and reaction to whatever new adversity arises is entirely human and believable. The emotions portrayed are believable even for a reader who is not a fan of the genre.

The one problem with the novel could be seen in Healy’s narrative strategy. During the chaos of the multiple catastrophes that occur on Eagle’s Talon, Healy breaks the action to develop Vance’s character. As Vance’s childhood and adolescent experiences are expanded on the quick pace of the narrative is slowed to a crawl. While the back-story is important to the overall narrative, it may seem like it could have been organized differently.

Rating: ★★★½☆ 

After obtaining a Masters in Liberal Arts and Literature Marcus has dedicated most of his time to teaching English Composition for a community college in the Midwest. In his down time, he spends time avidly reading an eclectic selection of books and doing freelance writing whenever he gets the chance. He lives in Kansas with his wife.

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

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Review: The Da Vinci Deception by Thomas Swan

[ 3 ] June 8, 2013

717af66cc996bdb2ad3c885c7459d6f2Reviewed by MaryLu McFall

The Da Vinci Deception, an introduction of Inspector Jack Oxby, was originally published years ago, and re-published in paperback in late 2012 to more success. The untimely title was overshadowed by Dan Brown’s novel. The two are only comparable in the Da Vinci connection.

In this caper an art fraud is carefully planned by an art and antiques dealer who is described sounding as close to Sydney Greenstreet as one can imagine. Jonas Kalum gathers a group of specialists picked for their unique talents: Curtis Stiehl, a counterfeiter being released from jail; Tony Waters, a con man with a long history; Eleanor Shephard, a specialist in the histories of ink and paper; and Giorgio Burri, an Italian DaVinci collector. Months of planning and preparation include speeches by Kalum hinting at a new original work of DaVinci’s about to be found.

Well-laid plans begin to unglue in London where Tony has been planted in the Library where the Royals have several originals which Curtis needs and Tony must borrow over a weekend. Unfortunately, a female Scotland Yard plant becomes suspicious and oddly enough goes with Tony to have a drink. You guessed it—Tony realizes the whole deal will all be for naught unless he takes care of her by setting her up to have an accident which she does not survive.

All the art history is written with aplomb, but a little research might prove some inaccuracies. So, a little willing suspension of disbelief or raised eyebrow suspicion is in order. When Oxby finally enters the story it is confusing since the cover states it is an Inspector Jack Oxby novel. The two publishing dates explain that—so it helps to be aware of that otherwise you will wonder where the devil Jack is keeping himself. Actually, Inspector Oxby has been after Jonas for months. He heard of some of Jonas’ lectures and wondered what he might be up to in predicting the “discovery” of a new item by the famous artist. There are a couple of twists that show Oxby’s genius in both deception and disguise and it made the whole thing fun to read. If you’re into art and DaVinci and gangs that are basically screw-ups, you ought to love this one. Swan has also written other novels with art and art history as the hook.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

MaryLu McFall is the author of A Little Karmic Murder, an eBook that is available on Kindle, Nook, and all other electronic readers. She lives, works part-time at an independent bookstore, and will soon have her Young Adult novel, The Family Lancaster, published as an eBook as well.

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

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Review: The Last Camellia by Sarah Jio

[ 1 ] May 29, 2013

51YyrpMK0EL._SY300_Reviewed by Colleen Turner

New York City, 1940: Flora Lewis has always loved learning about plants and flowers but has had to put her commitments to her parent’s bakery before any personal pursuits in order to help keep their family afloat. But now, with the threat of losing the bakery and the apartment above it looming over them, Flora agrees to travel to England to help an international ring of flower thieves locate a rare and valuable camellia plant, the Middlebury Pink. Excited for the adventure that lies ahead but apprehensive about her hidden agenda, Flora poses as a nanny at Livingston Manor where the last camellia is believed to be hidden within a beautiful orchard built for the recently deceased Lady Livingston.

It doesn’t take long for Flora to care deeply for the children in her charge – as well as their dashing older brother. But as she becomes a valuable part of the running of the manor she quickly senses that a dark shadow hangs over the family and that something sinister has been going on, something involving a number of women that have gone missing in the village. When it is clear that everyone – servants and family members included – are hiding secrets regarding what has actually been happening, how will Flora know who to trust? And if she does discover what has truly been going on, will she be able to escape the same fate?

New York City, 2000: Addison Sinclair has finally found the life she has been searching for. She is happily married to a charming and caring English writer, Rex. Her landscape design business is really taking off. Life seems perfect. But when her past – a dark past that she has kept hidden from everyone, even Rex – comes literally calling her back to it she convinces her husband this is the perfect time to escape to the home in the English countryside his parents have recently purchased. So off to Livingston Manor they go.

A beautiful yet eerie feeling seems to permeate every corner of the estate and its extensive gardens and the couple’s curiosity is instantly piqued. As they both start digging into the home’s past, looking for inspiration for Rex’s next book, they find information that points towards a malevolence that neither could have guessed. But as the manor’s past becomes clearer Addison’s own past shows up on their doorstep, refusing to stay hidden any longer. Could it finally be time for all the dark secrets to be revealed? And even if they are, is it too late to save Addison?

The Last Camellia is one of those books that, once I’ve turned the last page, I just sit back and say “wow”. I am always thoroughly impressed to see an author be able to twist and weave the past and the present, slowly revealing all the facts until the various pieces neatly fit together. Combine this with disquieting characters, evil intentions and a big, creaky old house and it’s really hard to put the book down and do anything else.

My favorite aspect of the book is the underlying them of regret and redemption. Both of our main characters are hiding secrets they are ashamed of and both will do whatever they can to do the right thing in the end. Now whether they are successful or not I will leave you to find out yourself.

The Last Camellia is an addicting kind of read and will fit perfectly in your beach bag or tucked up with you on a dark and stormy night. Bravo Sarah Jio!

Rating: ★★★★★ 

Colleen lives in Tampa, Florida with her husband, son, their dog Oliver and their fish Finn. When not working or taking care of her family she has her nose stuck in a book (and, let’s face it, often when she is working or taking care of her family as well). Nothing excites her more than discovering a new author to obsess over or a hidden jewel of a book to worship.

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

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Review: His Majesty’s Hope by Susan Elia MacNeal

[ 1 ] May 20, 2013

His_Majesty'sReviewed by Colleen Turner

His Majesty’s Hope, the third book in Susan Elia MacNeal’s Maggie Hope mystery series, begins with our favorite American ex-pat, Maggie Hope, completing spy training and preparing to drop into Berlin as the first woman spy to go behind enemy lines during WWII. While she is nervous at the unknown that lies ahead she is also excited for this new adventure and ready to finally prove that she can do her part to try and end the German war machine. So off she goes, leaving all of Maggie Hope’s life behind and immersing herself in the life of her cover identity, German Margareta Hoffman.

When Maggie’s initial mission – to deliver materials to a resistance group and infiltrate and bug Commandant Clara Hess’s office (Clara Hess being Maggie’s mother who she believed until recently was dead) – is completed she discovers she has a unique opportunity to get even more information for the English and decides to stay in Berlin undercover a bit longer. But circumstances beyond her control begin to unravel fast and Maggie not only discovers how truly heinous the actions of the Nazis have become but information of a more personal nature – she has a half-sister named Elise she never knew about, a half sister who is doing her own part from within Germany to help bring down the Nazis. When Maggie must seek Elise’s help to escape Berlin when her cover threatens to be blown, she also discovers that one of the people Elise has been hiding out in her attic is a man from Maggie’s past, one that will stir up her heart and change her personal life in ways she didn’t expect.

As Maggie fights to get out of Germany alive she must use all of her skills as a trained spy and a pragmatic thinker to do so. But her own well-trained and scheming mother isn’t about to make her plans easy and no one, not even brilliant Ms. Hope, will be prepared for what comes next.

I say this after reading each book in this series, but I just love Maggie Hope! She is brilliant, snarky and capable in so many more ways than many of the men surrounding her give her credit for. While His Majesty’s Hope has much of the same humor sprinkled in amongst the serious issues of war, loss and evil, I found this book to be much darker than the previous two. The reader is not only reintroduced to the many terrifying Nazi actions most of us already know about, such as the horrific and brutal treatment of the Jews, but told of the disgusting Children’s Euthanasia Program which saw German children deemed unfit for life (those that were blind, deaf or mentally or physically deformed) being gassed to help ultimately purify the German race. I had not heard of this practice before and let me tell you I was as disgusted as the characters when they found out. Getting an inside view of the German people during this time – both those that supported the Nazis and those that worked to try and stop them – was fascinating and a new viewpoint for me.

The other aspect that I found interesting was the subtle underlying idea that evil was, and is, everywhere. While what the Nazis were doing was utterly putrid, the references to the American treatment of American Indians and blacks throughout history and the disdainful treatment of homosexuals in all countries discussed helped highlight that no country or person is perfect and everyone has their demons to shoulder.

While not wanting to give anything away, His Majesty’s Hope ends with many plot lines left unresolved and ready to be picked up when the next book in the series comes out, which I hope doesn’t take very long! While Ms. MacNeal does a stellar job of getting a new reader to the series caught up on what occurred in the previous books, I would definitely suggest starting at the beginning of the series. By this third novel our brilliant Maggie has grown up quite a bit and is a little more cynical and haunted than previously, something that is inevitable when you read what she has gone through. You will want to meet the young, ambitious and slightly naïve Maggie in order to appreciate the more mature and driven woman she becomes.

No matter what you decide to do, however, I can’t see how you could not fall in love with Maggie Hope and all the wonderful people she has around her (especially her flat mate David!). There is so much to love with this series I would recommend this to just about anyone who likes history, mysteries or just a lively, admirable female character.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

Colleen lives in Tampa, Florida with her husband, son, their dog Oliver and their fish Finn. When not working or taking care of her family she has her nose stuck in a book (and, let’s face it, often when she is working or taking care of her family as well). Nothing excites her more than discovering a new author to obsess over or a hidden jewel of a book to worship.

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

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Review: The Madness Underneath by Maureen Johnson

[ 1 ] May 18, 2013

the-madness-underneath-pic1Reviewed by Krystal Larson

Readers will be happy to be reacquainted with Rory, the main character from the first book in the series, The Name of the Star. Rory was nearly a victim of the Jack the Ripper copycat and helped to bring about his downfall. She is still suffering from the ill effects of being in the horrible murderer’s presence. She sees a therapist and frequently highlights her fear and doubts to the reader. Rory discovered a lot about herself after the first book’s ending and she matured as well. The reader will love this new, open Rory.

The plot of The Madness Underneath is much like the first book’s. Around halfway through the book, Rory stumbles upon a murder that occurs near her school. Clearly, Rory must help track down and eliminate the culprit. She discovers that the murder has a supernatural hint to it and ends up learning about yet another ability that she possesses. The story continues with Rory acting as a sleuth.

Overall, The Madness Underneath was a good book, however, the reader has to appreciate the slow pace of the novel. This book felt like one of those winding brooks, where the plot slowly develops and unravels and the characters delve into the mystery bit by bit. This book reminded me of a Poirot or Agatha Christie novel; the suspense is built up ever so slowly and the author takes the time to acquaint the reader with every aspect of the novel. There might not have been constant action (though there is plenty towards the end!), but this book is sure to leave readers satisfied.

Rating: ★★★½☆ 

Krystal is a young college student who loves meeting new authors and finding great books! Her favorite place to read is the Botanic Gardens.

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

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Review: Tenzing Norbu Series by Gay Hendricks & Tinker Lindsay

[ 1 ] May 13, 2013

imagesReviewed by Drennan Spitzer

The First Rule of Ten and The Second Rule Of Ten are the first two volumes of Gay Hendricks and Tinker Lindsay’s Tenzing Norbu series. Tenzing, or “Ten,” Norbu is a former member of the Los Angeles Police Department who, in his early 30s, has left the department in order to become a private detective. Significantly, Ten spent his formative years training in a Tibetan Buddhist monastery in India. Accordingly, Ten struggles to integrate his Buddhist practices with a fast-paced life in the seemingly superficial world of Southern California.

In many ways, Hendricks and Lindsay write a typical detective character in Ten: he has difficulty with interpersonal relationships, particularly romantic ones; he feels alienated from the culture that surrounds him; he may even be tottering on the edge of alcoholism. Rather than making this series feel derivative, however, this gives readers a sense of familiarity. We know what to expect from Ten as a character, because we know what to expect from this genre. This series is like a combination of Sherlock Holmes, Ten’s literary hero, and the Los Angeles film noir.

Keeping in mind these literary antecedents, it’s also worth noting what it is that Hendricks and Tinker do to push the genre of the detective novel in new directions. Specifically, in Tenzing, the authors have created a character who, in his attempt to merge Buddhist philosophies and practices with a Western way of life, gives us a portrait of what a practicing Buddhist might look like in our own culture. Ten meditates, eats vegetarian, muses on philosophy and metaphysics, and seeks his own kind of enlightenment. At the same time, he is anything but perfect as he struggles with the issues he has with his parents, his own selfishness, and even a kind of materialism, all elements that provide a challenge to his Buddhism. The authors’ incorporation of Buddhist thought could easily become forced and heavy-handed, but for the most part, this works well because it’s simply a natural extension of Ten’s character.

Well written, this series should appeal to the reader who appreciates a good murder mystery. This is not the cozy mystery of Agatha Christie, however, but a new take on the Los Angeles noir detective in the tradition of Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe, with a healthy dose of Buddhism.

Rating: ★★★½☆ 

Drennan Spitzer is a writer and blogger from California who now resides in New England. She writes creatively, blogs publicly, and journals privately. You can find her at

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Gay Hendricks & Tinker Lindsay. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.

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