Tuesday, May 31, 2016

A Stolen Stradivarius Brings Small Town Secrets to Light

Rushmore McKenzie is wealthy enough to take only cases that interest him. When Paul Duclos, an internationally famous violinist asks for help in getting his stolen Stradivarius back, McKenzie is intrigued enough to agree to help.

The violin was stolen after Duclos performed in a concert in his home town. The case was recovered, but minus the violin. The insurance company refuses to offer a reward, but Duclos has gotten $250,000 to offer a reward himself.

McKenzie travels to the small town of Bayfield, Wisconsin to try to get the thieves to return the violin for the reward money. Once in town, he uncovers long hidden secrets that appear to relate to the theft of the violin.

The plot has numerous twists, It's not easy to guess the ending, but if you're paying attention, the clues are all there. I like that in a mystery book.

The small town is full of characters like Jack Westlund who lives on his boat and enjoys a Lenie's, a local beer. He also enjoys helping McKenzie's search for the culprits. I found the pace a little slow in the beginning, but about halfway through the book, it picked up.

If you enjoy a puzzle type mystery, you'll enjoy this one. There is some violence, but most of the action is following the clues.

I received this book from Net Galley for this review.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Texas Comes to the Chelsea Flower Show

Pru Parke is happy with her life at Greenoak helping her brother Simon restore the gardens and enjoying the closeness with her husband Christopher. However, when a friend from Austin, Texas calls and asks for help getting ready for the Chelsea Flower Show, she finds it hard to resist. Christopher is supportive and so they're off to London where Pru will help the Austin gardeners get oriented and ready to develop their garden.

Things don't work out quite as advertised. The Austin Garden Club arrives minus the president, Twyla, who was supposed to take the lead from Pru. Without Twyla, Pru finds herself taking on more and more responsibility for the garden. With the rain and cold, building the garden without enough help is becoming a chore. However, when Twyla arrives things get worse. Pru meets her briefly on the evening she arrives. The next morning they find her body in a trench on the garden site covered with rocks. From that one meeting, Pru feels a kinship with the other woman. Now she wants to find the killer and make sure Twyla realizess her dream of a garden at the Chelsea Flower Show.

This is a leisurely cozy mystery. The pace matches the pace of gardeners putting together their displays. As usual the gardening details are realistic, including the rain and mud in the spring in England. The Austin details are also accurate. If you're a Texan, or love Texas, you'll find this delightful.

Pru is a character you want to like. She's talented and responsible and wants to help other people realize their dreams. I was pleased to see more of Christopher doing detective work in this novel. He's almost too good to be true. He loves Pru and tries to protect her, although this isn't always an easy job.

I enjoyed the book although the mud and rain of the early chapters were depressing. I also felt that the inability of the Texas women to get down to work was rather unrealistic. Maybe it was Twyla's dream, not theirs, but still they seemed to do too much time away from the garden prep leaving it to Pru

I received this book from Net Galley for this review.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Lady Georgina Must Find a Husband Before her Secret is Discovered

Lady Georgina Hawthorne is a natural beauty, but she has a embarrassing secret. Her solution is to make the most brilliant match of the season. She believes that if she snares a powerful man, she'll be safe.

Colin McCrae is not a part of the aristocracy, but his extraordinary ability to manage money makes him sought after by those lords and ladies needing large incomes to keep up their extravagant lifestyle.

When Colin meets Georgina, he thinks she's a scheming little baggage not in the same league with the other members of her family for whom he has high regard. Georgina equally dislikes Colin. He's a mere commoner. How dare he have contempt for her?

Georgina starts the book as a rather unlikable character. We see her scheming with her maid Harrietta and wishing that her older sister, Miranda, had already married so the field would be clear for her. As the story progresses Georgina becomes a more sympathetic character. By the end of the book you can't help but root for her.

The Christian element in this book is quietly, but effectively done. Colin's religion is deep and personal. It drives his behavior, and in the end becomes attractive to Georgina. The romance in this story doesn't rely on overtly sexual behavior, but rather rests on the strong attraction these characters feel for each.

I highly recommend this book. The author's research makes the period come alive. You feel as though you were living with the characters. I won't give away Georgina's secret, but I thought the author did an excellent job making her problem real.

I received this book from Net Galley for this review.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Murder Haunts a Luxury Spa

Paulina Langenberg, owner of the Langenberg cosmetics company, is worried that someone is trying to sabotage her luxury spa by planting stories that the mineral water used in the spa is radioactive. She invites her good friend Charlotte Graham, a famous actress, to spend a week at the spa and try to figure out who is responsible for planting the story. Charlotte agrees to go. After all how can she go wrong with a fully paid week at Paulina's spa. However, when guests begin turning up dead in the mineral baths, she gets more than she bargained for.

This is an amusing mystery if you enjoy luxurious settings. I found the early chapters of the book very slow. The description of spa life was interesting up to a point, but then it became repetitive. After the middle of the book the pace picked up. The murders were rather clever and the book ends with a twist.

Charlotte is a good character. I enjoyed her observations on life and her fellow spa goers. Paulina is a rather overblown tyrant. However, she has a soft side, and it was amusing to watch her maneuver people to get her own way.

If you enjoy mysteries with little violence and a moderate amount of sleuthing, you may enjoy this book. However, the slow pace and excessive description keep me from recommending it highly.

I received this book from Net Galley for this review.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

How Plot Affects the Reader's Experience

In this short treatise, Belnap gives a cogent discussion of how the structure of a plot affects the reader's experience and how it relates to the period in which the work was created. To illustrate his thesis, the author used Shakespeare's King Lear and Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment.

In King Lear, Belnap discusses the use of characters and how scenes such as recognition scenes or reconciliation scenes affect the audience. I found the discussion fascinating. It made me think about how Shakespeare structures both scenes and characters to get the reaction he wants from the audience.

In Crime and Punishment, Belnap discusses how effectively Dostoevsky works with the psychological plot to draw the reader into the murder committed by Raskoinkov. His discussion highlighted for me how Dostoevsky uses thoughts and feelings to increase the tension leading up to the final act.

The treatise by Belnap is preceded by a long introduction by Robin Feuer Miller. Although the introduction is informative, I found Belnap's discussion easier to follow. I particularly enjoyed how he introduced other books and authors to illustrate the points he made primarily using Shakespeare and Dostoevsky.

I recommend this book for anyone who enjoys literature either writing or reading. It will enhance your understanding of how authors work to draw you into their fiction.

I received this book from Net Galley for this review.  

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Growing up in the Shadow of Murder

When Olivia was three-years-old, her mother was murdered and the primary suspect was her father. Growing up with this background, she has always felt a bit of an outcast. It's unsurprising that she would like to know what happened and where her father is.

Now seventeen, Olivia is an emancipated minor living on her own. She has pretty much put her old life and questions about her parents behind her, but when the police come knocking on the door and tell her that her father is dead and was killed at the same time as her mother, suddenly it's important again. She wants to know what happened.

Although the book started with an exciting scene of Olivia running from a killer, the book quickly moved to a more steady pace driven by the story being told through Olivia's thoughts. I chose the book because I though the plot would be interesting, but it didn't live up to it's promise. The plot is too driven by coincidence, and requires a suspension of disbelief when Olivia returns to her home town and begins asking questions about the murder. She's only seventeen and a stranger, it's a bit of a stretch to have the townspeople suddenly unburdening themselves to her.

Olivia is a character teenagers will find empathetic. She takes her life into her own hands and goes off to solve the mystery of her parents death. It's unrealistic that we never see the police working the cold case, but it makes Olivia's detective work more important.

I found the ending poorly done. The clues dropped in the story don't lead you to suspect who the killer is, so it comes out of the blue. I like twists in a story, but this was more of a leap.

I think this is a book teenagers will enjoy for the identification with the main character, but as a mystery it is lacking.

I received this book from Net Galley for this review.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Storm Chasing and Romance

Drew McGovern was waiting for Colby,her fiancee, to return from a storm chasing trip when she received the devastating news that he'd been killed. He survived the storm chasing trip, but died helping a stranded motorist. With the help of her friends, Drew recovers from the tragedy, but she isn't sure where her life is going.

When Colby's storm chasing team invites her to come on an expedition, she eagerly accepts. She wants to see what attracted Colby. Although she isn't looking for romance, one of the team members, Aiden, Colby's best friend, attracts her.

Aiden is equally attracted to Drew, in fact, he's wanted her for years. However, he's uncomfortable acting on the attraction feeling that it's disloyal to Colby.

For me, the best part of this book is the storm chasing setting. It's unusual, and there's just enough danger to make it interesting.

Drew is an empathetic character. You can't help but root for her to get over the tragedy and move on with her life. Although she knows noting about storm chasing, she proves herself to be a gutsy lady.

I wasn't as impressed with Aiden. He starts the story as the brooding Alpha male out to make it with any woman he can convince to come to his bed. However, as the story progresses and he and Drew let their mutual attraction grow, he becomes a more likable character.

I recommend this book if you enjoy hot romance in an unusual setting. One caveat is that some of the sex is fairly explicit. If that bothers you, this is not your book.

I received this book from Net Galley for this review.