"No one can be lonely who has a book for company." ~ Nelle Reagan

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Carolyn Hart's Death on Demand - the first mystery novel in the famous series

Death on Demand
Author:  Carolyn Hart
Publisher:  A Bantam Crime Line Book, Bantam Books, a division of Random House 
Published: original publication date:  1987
Pages:  213, though the numbering ends at 195 pages.  Includes meet the author and an introduction to Mint Julep Murder.
Genre:  Mystery
Source:  I own this book.

There are 77 authors' names dropped throughout this cozy mystery, some more than once.  See the author's website for complete list.

At Annie Laurence's Death On Demand bookstore on Broward's Rock Island, South Carolina, murder most foul suddenly isn't confined to the well-stocked shelves.  Author Elliot Morgan's abrupt demise  during a weekly gathering of famous mystery writers called the Sunday Night Regulars is proof positive that a bloody sword is sometimes mightier than a brilliant pen.

Who Could Plot a Murder Better Than a Mystery Writer

With Annie in the unenviable position of primary police suspect, the pretty young mystery maven and her wealthy paramour, Max Darling, embark on an investigation into a classic locked-room mystery with high stakes.  For failing to unmask a brutal and ingenious killer could mean prison for Ms. Laurence.  While success could mean her death.

My Thoughts:

I love these Death on Demand mysteries so much that I decided to start them from the very beginning which is where Death on Demand begins.  We are introduced to Annie Laurence who owns a bookstore which sells mysteries and to her "friend" Max Darling.  Their relationship gets much more serious in later books but for now they are deniably involved.

During a Sunday evening meeting of the local mystery authors, a black out occurs and when Annie manages to get the lights back on, Elliot is dead.  The store is locked and everyone is still present when the light returns.  When the police are called in, Annie becomes prime suspect because she had financial motive and could have had opportunity.  Being the proprietor of Death on Demand has put Annie in the sight lines of the local police who fail to see anyone else as possible suspects.  It is up to Annie and Max to clear her name but can they before the chief arrests her?

I hadn't before read this debut in the series and am thrilled to see that the plotting and characterization I know Carolyn Hart for is just as strong in the first of the series as it is in the rest.  I had an inkling of suspicion about the killer but those thoughts were put away time and again as new evidence was introduced and I was happily surprised at the end.  

Next to Agatha Christie, Carolyn Hart is my favourite mystery author.  Her writing is witty, entertaining and suspenseful.  A clever and winning combination.  The Death on Demand series is hard to put down and highly addictive.  I'm so grateful Ms. Hart is prolific!!


Death on Demand series is available at your local bookstore and on Amazon.  Check it out!

Meet the author:

Hart is a native of Oklahoma City, a Phi Beta Kappa journalism graduate of the University of Oklahoma, and a former president of Sisters in Crime. She is also a member of Authors Guild, Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, the International Crime Writers Association, the International Thrillers Association, and the American Crime Writers League. She taught professional writing in the University of Oklahoma School of Journalism from 1982-85. She is the author of 49 mysteries, winner of three Agatha Awards for Best Novel, two Anthonys and two Macavitys. (from the author's website)

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

If You Were Me and Lived In .... India by Carole P. Roman (children's book review)

If You Were Me and Lived in India....
A Child's Introduction to Culture Around the World
Author:  Carole P. Roman
Published:  2013
Publisher:  Self-published
A Children's Picture Book with Pronunciation Guide
Source:  a complimentary copy was provided by the author and Bostick Communications in exchange for an honest review.

"If You Were Me and Lived in...India - An Introduction to Learning About Other Cultures," is another entry in this educational series that takes children on a journey to India.  Perfect for children from Pre-K to age eight, this little book is a ground breaking new experience in exposing children to the joy of cultural differences.


My thoughts:

The around the world trip continues with former teacher Carole P. Roman as your guided tour in this children's book, If You Were Me and Lived in India.

Once you locate India on the map drawn for you, you soon find yourself in New Delhi, the capital of India.  You might take a rickshaw taxi to get around.  Amazingly, there are over 100 hundred languages spoken there!  If you are a boy, your name could be Raj; a girl, Priyanka.  Children learn that mother is Maaji and father is Pitaji.  The currency of India and a visit to the Taj Mahal are included in this brief introduction to the country.  A pronunciation guide is included so you and your child can practice the new words.

This series is valuable as a teaching tool to introduce your child or your class (teacher/student) to a new country and the people who live there.  With colourful well-drawn illustrations and conversational text, children and parents alike will enjoy visiting a new land.

Carole P. Roman is a former teacher and an accomplished author.  According to Carole Roman's website, there are three other books in this series including:  If You Were Me and Lived in Mexico, If You Were Me and Lived in Asia, If You Were Me and Lived in France.  She has also written and book for children about yoga, "I Want to Do Yoga Too."  See her website   http://caroleproman.com for a complete list of her published works.

Monday, April 21, 2014

You Can't Resist "The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry" by Gabrielle Zevin - book review

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry
Author:  Gabrielle Zevin
Published:  2014
Publisher:  Viking, a division of Penguin Random House Company
Pages:  260
Source:  borrowed

An irresistible novel about second chances and finding room for all the books - and all the love - that transform our lives
A.J. Fikry’s life is not at all what he expected it to be. His wife has died, his bookstore is experiencing the worst sales in its history, and now his prized possession, a rare collection of Poe poems, has been stolen. Slowly but surely, he is isolating himself from all the people of Alice Island—from Chief Lambiase, the well-intentioned police officer who's always felt kindly toward him; from Ismay, his sister-in-law, who is hell-bent on saving A.J. from his dreary self; from Amelia, the lovely and idealistic (if eccentric) Knightley Press sales rep who persists in taking the ferry to Alice Island, refusing to be deterred by A.J.'s bad attitude. Even the books in his store have stopped holding pleasure for him. These days, A.J. can only see them as a sign of a world that is changing too rapidly.

And then a mysterious package appears at the bookstore. It’s a small package, though large in weight—an unexpected arrival that gives A.J. the opportunity to make his life over, the ability to see everything anew. It doesn’t take long for the locals to notice the change overcoming A.J., for the determined sales rep Amelia to see her curmudgeonly client in a new light, for the wisdom of all those books to become again the lifeblood of A.J.’s world. Or for everything to twist again into a version of his life that he didn’t see coming.

As surprising as it is moving, The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry is an unforgettable tale of transformation and second chances, an irresistible affirmation of why we read and why we love.

My Thoughts:

There's been a lot of buzz about the newest novel by Gabrielle Zevin, The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, and I'll tell  you why.  A.J. Fikry is a bit of a grouchy bookseller.  Recently widowed, the bottle has become his means of escape.  Even the new rep from one of the publishers he does business with receives a most cold reception.  After sending her on her way and preparing to close up shop he hears and then finds a toddler with a note asking him to take care of her.  No mother or anyone in sight.

What does he know about babies, changing diapers, feeding a baby? he asks himself.  Turns out, you can Google that!  This sweet child changes his life, as often children have a knack of doing, and the rough edges that make up A.J. Fikry begin to soften and wear away.  

Not only does he change his lifestyle, but soon even his business is affected, his friendships, and the sales rep makes a welcome reappearance.

I absolutely love this novel.  It's hard not to.  The setting is a bookstore, the protagonist a bookseller, and we have the added joy of reading about various titles recommended and/or on his daughter's reading list.  A.J. Fikry even decides he loves short story collections.  Gasp!

"The most elegant creation in the prose universe is a short story.  Master the short story and  you'll have master the world, he thinks just before he drifts off to sleep.  I should write this down, he thinks." (page 246)

The author, Gabrielle Zevin, truly must love books.  She understands her reader does too for she writes, "We need to know we're not alone.  We read because we are alone.  We read and we are not alone.  We are not alone."  

"My life is in those books, he wants to tell her (Maya).  Read these and know my heart....We are not quite novels...We are not quite short stories.  In the end, we are collected works."

He has perfect insight - "We aren't the things we collect, acquire, read.  We are, for as long as we are here, only love."

Fikry's life has changed so much and the journey forward warms your heart as you read about this imperfect man who finally finds perfect meaning.  When you lose yourself in love, that is when you find yourself, as Fikry did.

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry is a warm, charming, intellectually stirring story... of romance, love and books and a man who finds he has it all after all. 

Rating:  a favourite of 2014

Meet the author:

Gabrielle Zevin has published six adult and young-adult novels, including an American Library Association Notable Children’s Book, Elsewhere. Her novels have been translated into more than twenty languages. She is the screenwriter ofConversations with Other Women, for which she received an Independent Spirit Award nomination. She has also written for The New York Times Book Review and NPR’s All Things Considered. She lives in Los Angeles.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Hidden by Catherine McKenzie - book review

Author:  Catherine McKenzie
Publisher:  Harper Collins Publisher 
Published:  2013
Genre: General fiction
Source:  I won an ARC in a Facebook contest put on by the author.

When a married man suffers a sudden fatal accident, two women are shattered—his wife and someone else’s—and past secrets, desires and regrets are brought to light.
While walking home from work one evening, Jeff Manning is struck by a car and killed. Not one but two women fall to pieces at the news: his wife, Claire, and his co-worker Tish. Reeling from her loss, Claire must comfort her grieving son and contend with funeral arrangements, well-meaning family members and the arrival of Jeff’s estranged brother—her ex-boyfriend—Tim.
With Tish’s co-workers in the dark about her connection to Jeff outside the workplace, she volunteers to attend the funeral on the company’s behalf, but only she knows the true risk of inserting herself into the wreckage of Jeff’s life. Told through the three voices of Jeff, Tish and Claire, Hidden explores the complexity of relationships, our personal choices and the responsibilities we have to the ones we love.
My thoughts:
Beneath the surface, lies lay Hidden, truths distorted, and relationships complex.  The death of Jeff in a motor vehicle accident sends worlds colliding.  Hidden in told in three voices, by Jeff, his wife Claire, and a co-worker Tish.  Through their versions, we discover how easily twisted lives can become.  Somehow, through their telling, we find ourselves questioning whether we would want to know the truth, in whatever form it may come.  Could it be that ignorance is bliss?
We suspect, as Claire does, that there's more to Tish's attendance at the funeral.  Tish attends as a representative of the company Jeff worked for but Claire picks up on cues that make her question her marriage and she cannot leave it alone.
Hidden has a complex plot with the narrative told by three characters.  I enjoyed this effect as it allows us to see their lives much as a fly on a wall would.  The characterization is incredibly well done - the characters are three dimensional.  I dare you to read their portions without shedding a tear.
I had previously read Forgotten, my first of Catherine McKenzie's novels, which I thoroughly enjoyed but Hidden is better!  From the narrative, to the plot, to the characters; everything is well laid out and defined.  Hidden is a captivating novel about grief, secrets, and the lives affected.  Hard to put down.

Meet the author:
A graduate of McGill University in History and Law, Catherine practices law in Montreal, where she was born and raised. An avid skier and runner, Catherine’s novels, SPIN, ARRANGED and FORGOTTEN, are all international bestsellers. Her fourth novel, HIDDEN, will be released in June, 2013 in Canada and in Spring 2014 in the US. Her novels have been translated into French, German, Czech, Slovak and Polish. And if you want to know how she has time to do all that, the answer is: robots.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Children of the Revolution by Peter Robinson (a mystery review) and Contest to Win a Copy

Children of the Revolution
An Inspector Banks Novel
Author:  Peter Robinson
Published:  March 25/14
Publisher:  William Morrow, a division of Harper Collins Publishers
Pages:  339
Genre:  Mystery
ISBN: 9780062240507
Source:  A complimentary copy was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

CHILDREN OF THE REVOLUTION is available now at Amazon | B&N  IndieBound 

New York Times bestselling author Peter Robinson is back with the gritty, witty, and intricate mind of Detective Chief Inspector Alan Banks in a complex case told in CHILDREN OF THE REVOLUTION (William Morrow; Hardcover; March 25, 2014; $25.99; ISBN: 9780062240507).With inexorable momentum, emotional literacy, and a serpentine knot of connections driving the case, Robinson lucidly illustrates his ongoing ability to intrigue readers, old and new.

When disgraced college lecturer Gavin Miller is discovered dead on an abandoned railway line near his home, Banks and his team are drafted to investigate what appears to be a drug-facilitated murder. But Miller is found with a staggering 5,000 pounds—a surprising facet given Miller lived as a poverty-stricken recluse since his dismissal at Eastvale College four years prior. As evidence unfolds, Banks begins to realize it’s not the present that will lead him to the answers he needs, but the dark seeds of the past.

The detective and his team start to track back through Miller’s life, finding a long line of suspects at Eastvale, as well as his Alma mater—a hotbed of militant protest and bitter politics during his stay. Banks is convinced that the skeletons of the past will break this case open, but once a high-profile suspect becomes involved, his superiors warn him to back off.

Now risking his career by conducting the investigation surreptitiously, he uncovers family secrets that lead to a dramatic collision. After the layers of deceit are stripped away, the breakthroughs are not the ones Banks expected and the case moves into high gear with an unexpected end.

In this novel, Robinson brings a fascinating backstory to the fore and the reality of the 1970’s to life. CHILDREN OF THE REVOLUTION is a top-notch thriller that further confirms Banks’ place as one of the most intriguing characters in detective fiction.

My thoughts:

Not too long ago I discovered a British mystery series that I have become quite addicted to watching.  As I began reading Children of the Revolution, I found parallels between this mystery novel and the series I enjoy so much.  Not that they are similar, really, but both take place in Britain, both are police procedurals, and both are intricately plotted so as to keep the reader/viewer totally enthralled.

Banks lives and breathes through the penned words of Robinson.  The author not only focuses on the investigative aspect of the mystery, he shares insight into the characters within the story, making them as real as you and I.  When Banks and his team uncover information that leads to a person of high stature, Banks is warned to back off.  But Banks is like a dog with a bone and he can't, even though it could have unfavourable repercussions and damage his career, including his chance for promotion.

I like that fighting character and wouldn't expect anything but.  One cannot root for a protagonist who doesn't fight a good fight, who won't back down when it comes to justice.  Perhaps that is why I enjoy mysteries so much.  I love an intricate plot and strong characters.  Robinson promises both with Children of the Revolution.  All those accolades he has earned throughout his writing career are well-earned.  

Now I know you'll want to read this for yourself!!  Here's your chance.  

Peter Robinson's award-winning novels have been named a Best-Book-of-the-Year by Publishers Weekly, a Notable Book by the New York Times, and a Page-Turner-of-the-Week by People magazine. Robinson was born and raised in Yorkshire but has lived in North America for over twenty-five years. He now divides his time between North America and the U.K. 

Monday, April 14, 2014

Leaving Everything Most Loved by Jacqueline Winpsear - review

Leaving Everything Most Loved
Author:  Jacqueline Winspear
Published:  April 2014
Publisher:  Harper Perennial
Pages:  368
Source:  A complimentary copy was provided by the publisher and TLC Book Tours in exchange for my honest review.

London, 1933. Two months after Usha Pramal’s body is discovered in the waters of a city canal, her brother, newly arrived in England, turns to Maisie Dobbs for help. Not only has Scotland Yard made no arrests, but evidence indicates they failed to conduct a full investigation. Usha had been staying at an ayah’s hostel, a refuge for Indian women. As Maisie learns, Usha was different from the hostel’s other residents. But with this discovery comes new danger, as a fellow lodger who was close to Usha is found murdered.
As Maisie is pulled deeper into an unfamiliar yet captivating subculture, her investigation becomes clouded by the unfinished business of a previous case, and by a growing desire to see more of the world. At the same time, her lover, James Compton, gives her an ultimatum she cannot ignore. Bringing a crucial chapter in the life and times of Maisie Dobbs to a close, Leaving Everything Most Loved signals a vital turning point in this remarkable series.

Here's a rather sad fact:  for all the mysteries I've devoured over the years, I had not yet read a Maisie Dobbs!!  So in reading Leaving Everything Most Loved, the tenth book in the series, I felt a bit out of the loop.  There were references to a previous case that lost me a bit and the inner turmoil Maisie experiences throughout the book in relation to her personal affairs would have meant more had I better known her character.  However, I quickly became wrapped up in the plot that Winspear so capably weaves.

The prelude begins with the shooting death of a woman who had immigrated from India.  We know nothing about her except that she has gotten a fine sum of money and is eagerly anticipating returning to her country of origin.  As she is embracing this long sought after desire as an almost certain event in the not so distant future, someone has other ideas and uses the red circle upon her forehead as a target.
Moving forward, Maisie is contemplating her own future. Though Maisie does not consider herself necessarily a praying person, she goes to a nun whom she trusts to help her put a proper perspective on her decision about going abroad.  The death of her mentor and friend seems to have left Maisie somewhat lost and she feels that she must follow his path through India to better know the man and in turn herself. After ten books behind her and numerous cases, she is now looking at her life in retrospect.  But losing someone close to  you can have that effect.
Then a case is brought to her by the brother of a deceased immigrant, the aforementioned woman who was shot, Maisie and her team get busy exploring the "why" and "whom".  Before long another case comes her way and the two seem to have ties to one another.  As Maisie and her team delve deeper they uncover a less savoury London, a London that is less than kind to its immigrants.  All the time she is investigating, Maisie must also decide how she is going to answer James' proposal for marriage.  If she responds in the affirmative, could it mean a move to Canada?  If she doesn't respond soon, James will move on without her.  He has, after all, given her a deadline.  Maisie's used to deadlines though.  There is no firmer a deadline than murder.
Overall Leaving Everything Most Loved is a well-written, somewhat leisurely paced mystery set in historical London which certainly has its charms.  Though I felt somewhat lost with a lack of background upon which to draw for characterization, I did enjoy this novel and will certainly like to go back to the first Maisie Dobbs, to where it all began, and read my way forward to this current mystery.  Leaving Everything Most Loved certainly can be read as a stand alone but I think the reader would benefit from knowing Maisie just a little better.  Perhaps it would help build a foundation for what currently seems a situation of indecisiveness as it pertains to the present and her future.  

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Meet the author:
Jacqueline Winspear is the author of the New York Times bestsellers Leaving Everything Most LovedElegy for EddieA Lesson in SecretsThe Mapping of Love and Death, Among the Mad, and An Incomplete Revenge, as well as four other Maisie Dobbs novels. Originally from the United Kingdom, she now lives in California.
Find out more about Jacqueline at her website, www.jacquelinewinspear.com, and find her on Facebook.


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