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Friday, November 29, 2013

Locked Within By Helen Macie Osterman



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Sandra Murphy


Check out details on how to win a copy of this book at the end of this review.

Emma Winberry and her significant other, Nate Sandler, are extras for the Midwest Opera Company in Chicago. Delia is a good friend and singer in the opera.

Emma has a sixth sense about things–she calls it her Guardian Angel, an inner voice that tells her when something is wrong and it tells her something is very awry with Delia. When Delia suffers a stroke and is hospitalized, Emma feels compelled to help in any way she can. Delia is paralyzed on her right side and surprisingly, can only speak in Italian, with most of the words coming out backward. Emma is able to act as translator.

Delia’s son just got divorced and is married again already. Delia doesn’t like or trust her new daughter-in-law and things get worse when Delia is forced to live with Mike and June. Mike is a busy veterinarian and Delia’s care falls to his new wife, which was not in June’s game plan at all. Adult Day Care is a respite but June wants Delia gone to a nursing home or something more permanent. Just how far is she really willing to go?



Image source: Oak Tree

There are nice twists and turns, side plots and good characters. Gladys and Cornell are long distance friends in distress, the workers at the day care are kind and caring, and family plays a big role. My favorite is baby Robin, who at eighteen months old, shows signs of having a Guardian Angel of her own. At the veterinary office, there’s Marge, someone you’d like to know and Frances, someone you wouldn’t! Nate is a good man, although he does get a little cranky about Emma’s gift because it gets in the way of their time together. On the other hand, when he’s needed, he immediately helps in any way he can.

Osterman herself was a nurse for forty-five years, so the scenes with Delia during speech and physical therapy ring true. As she says, she has taken a few liberties with privacy rules in letting Emma know all about Delia’s condition, but it doesn’t distract from the story or seem out of line. It’s nice to read about older people who are so actively involved, not only in the community but with their neighbors, friends and family and who still make time to do the right thing.

This isn’t so much a “who-dun-it” as it is about how everyone will get what they deserve, both bad and good, and that’s not a bad thing.

Locked Within
is the sixth in the Emma and Nate series. You’ll want to read them all!

To enter to win a copy of Locked Within, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “Locked”, or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen December 7, 2013. U.S. residents only.


Sandra Murphy lives in the shadow of the arch, in the land of blues, booze and shoes—St Louis, Missouri. While writing magazine articles to support her mystery book habit, she secretly polishes two mystery books of her own, hoping, someday, they will see the light of Barnes and Noble. You can also find several of Sandra's short stories on UnTreed Reads including Bananas Foster.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Peak Season for Murder: A Leigh Girard Mystery By Gail Lukasik



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Cynthia Chow


Check out details on how to enter to win a copy of this book at the end of the review.

After surviving breast cancer, Leigh Girard jettisoned both a career as a Chicago college teacher and an unsympathetic husband to begin a new life in Wisconsin as a reporter for the Door County Gazette. Although Leigh has slowly adjusted to life in the isolated small town she can’t resist forays into investigative reporting, especially when it concerns those she cares about. Brownie Lawrence, which she learns was not even his true name, was a homeless–but not address-less–benevolent man who died on the valuable land bequeathed to him and whom the police suspect was murdered by his distrustful and often enraged friend, Ken Albright. Believing that Ken is trouble but not homicidal, and having evidence that he refused to trust to the police, Leigh researches the life of a troubled man whose history leads back to tragic events from the Vietnam War.

The actual article Leigh has been assigned to cover concerns the Bayside Theater, America’s oldest professional residential summer theater, which is celebrating its 65th anniversary with a series of productions that includes The Merchant of Venice. The event’s drawing attraction is Nate Ryan, a famous Hollywood actor whose history of drug abuse and accusations of domestic violence has led to a declining career. As Leigh interviews the cast, she discovers tales of pranks, illicit affairs and jealousy, and witnesses ominously disastrous rehearsals.

Although Leigh is able to resist the considerable charm of Nate Ryan, she can’t say the same of her friend, Lydia Crane, a nurse whose new business as a masseuse places her directly in the path of the promiscuous actor. What is shocking to Leigh is the call she receives from Lydia with a plea for help and the confession that she has Nate, dead, in her studio. Soon the media is circling and Lydia becomes her own worst enemy as she withholds information, lashes out at Leigh and blames herself for not being able to diagnose or revive Nate. Suspicions of an overdose and continued substance abuse begin to circulate around the late actor and Leigh receives the aid of two of her “ex-somethings,” one of whom is her editor, to shield Lydia as much as she will allow.



Image source: Five Star

In the theater world the show must go on and as the Bayside Theater’s Anniversary continues, Leigh uncovers superstitions and the mysterious disappearance of Danielle Moyer, an actress who last performed for their 50th anniversary along with several of the actors who returned for the 75th. As Leigh attempts to investigate both the death of Brownie and Nate Ryan, she must contend with the finalization of her own divorce, her reluctance to trust enough in order to commit to a new relationship and a friend who is spinning out of control. The attentions of the BT groundskeeper/bartender are an unwanted distraction; especially since Leigh is uncertain whether they are threatening or amorous.

The third in the Leigh Girard series continues to display the excellent writing that expands on Leigh’s continual need–pointed out rather unkindly by another character–to take in strays. The descriptions of beautiful Death’s Door combine with extraordinarily complex characters who reveal a multitude of dimensions to make this a very enjoyable and powerful read.

The author creates a fascinating story arc with the character of Lydia, who teeters between states of near-catatonic guilt and manic narcissism, the latter causing her to conduct inadvisable interviews with entertainment tabloids. Despite Lydia’s best attempts to alienate and even attack her friend, Leigh’s protective instincts kick in as her perceptiveness allows her to see through Lydia’s default defensive behavior.

Although I’m not sure what it says of me as a person, I found Lydia’s eventual fate to be somehow satisfying and beneficial to Leigh. Since her first appearance, “Destroying Angels” Leigh has moved on to a point where she is ready to make final decisions and move on with her life. Lukasik has created a mystery that examines many fascinating characters extensively while including the juicy details of the theater world. Leigh brings a mature, witty and very intelligent voice to this very strongly written mystery series.

To enter to win a copy of Peak Season, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “Season”, or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen November 30, 2013. U.S. residents only.


Cynthia Chow is the branch manager of Kaneohe Public Library on the island of Oahu. She balances a librarian lifestyle of cardigans and hair buns with a passion for motorcycle riding and regrettable tattoos (sorry, Mom).



Friday, November 8, 2013

Death and the Detective: Eleven Mystery Tales Edited by Jess Faraday



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Cynthia Chow


Check out details on how to enter to win a copy of this book at the end of the review.

With eleven mystery authors given the parameters to write a short story about a detective and a death, it’s not surprising that editor Jess Faraday received such a diverse collection of original, and all very well written, tales of death and deception. Sometimes the narrators are heroes and sometimes they are the deceivers, but they always manage to entrap the reader into their stories of justice, redemption, and survival. Broken into categories of Doublecross, Revenge, Something to Prove, They Needed Killin’, and Second Chances, readers are treated to sometimes funny, sometimes tragic, but always compelling tales of death and morality.

In Jess Faraday’s fun “Golden Handcuffs,” an unlikable shoe store employee falls to his death and it’s up to a shopping mall security guard to make a decision between justice and the law. The concept of justice also comes into question in H. Tucker Cobey’s “Happy Valentine’s,” when a femme fatale client asks Chandler Investigations to look into a suspected suicide. Mark Hague’s detective in “Detective for Dummies” somewhat unknowingly solves his case through the subtle hints conveyed to him by his charming life partner, and Lee Mullins’ “Foot in the Trash Can” places a twist on the traditional hard-boiled police detective by having him finding an unexpected surprise when he enlists the aid of a drag queen assistant coroner. “The Cat,” by Gay Toltl Kinman, finds a damaged police detective finding redemption through a cat who may be able to provide the evidence essential to saving the case. And one of the most twisty and enjoyable convoluted tales “White Devil” by Sarah M. Chen, an American-Chinese investigator finds that investigating his own marriage may be more complicated than a case of insurance fraud and smuggling.



Image source: Elm Books

Short story collections are perfect for introducing readers to new authors, and each of these stories and the many others provide entertaining glimpses into the works of these diverse writers. Readers should be on the lookout for past and upcoming mysteries by these talented authors.

To enter to win an ebook copy of Death and the Detective, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “Detective”, or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen November 16, 2013. U.S. residents only.


Cynthia Chow is the branch manager of Kaneohe Public Library on the island of Oahu. She balances a librarian lifestyle of cardigans and hair buns with a passion for motorcycle riding and regrettable tattoos (sorry, Mom).



Friday, November 1, 2013

Revenant Eve By Sherwood Smith



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Terrance McArthur


Details on how to win a copy of this book at the end of this post.

Sherwood Smith has developed her fictional nation of Dobrenica over two previous books (Coronets & Steel, Blood Spirits). It’s a tiny, European monarchy where magic works, vampires lurk, and–if the people are living in harmony–the whole country can disappear from this world for decades at a time. Kim Murray was a California educator until her bloodlines caught up with her and she found herself engaged to Dobrenica’s future Crown Prince. And this is where things get weird (Okay, they were already weird, but this is major “Say-What?” time) in the third book in the series, Revenant Eve.

Two weeks before the wedding, the patron saint of Dobrenica sends Kim’s soul two centuries back in time to the Napoleonic era, to act as a spirit guide in the Caribbean (a duppy) to the girl who would become a great-great ancestor to Kim and many Dobrenican nobles, and to make sure the youngster gets to the magical kingdom by way of England and France. Aurelie is the twelve-year-old daughter of a female pirate and an escaped slave, and Kim can only communicate with her through mirrors, where she engages in much pantomime.



Image source: Penguin

As the girl grows, she is sent to very-British relatives who are horrified when they learn the true nature of her heritage, but thrilled with Aurelie’s fortune entrusted to their care, so they do what they can to get rid of her. Adrift in Paris, the young woman catches hold of distant relations and is soon living with Empress Josephine Bonaparte. All through this, Kim is primarily an observer, looking for a way to steer her charge toward Dobrenica and her destiny, but she eventually gets to be an active participant in the story across many planes of existence.

This is a major change from Smith’s previous plots, and some reader/reviewers don’t approve. I enjoyed the opportunity to explore other cultures, other times and other dimensions. There are sections of differing paces, from slow and thoughtful to “Something strange just happened and I only got a glimpse of it” to “Let me hold on to something! We just shifted into warp speed!” It’s great fun, and it will be interesting to see if Kim’s marriage will cause the Blessing that erases Dobrenica from the view of the world. Of course, with some of the divisive forces in the country, that may take a while to happen–the better for us, because we’ll get to read all about their delicious problems!

To enter to win a copy of Revenant Eve, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “Eve”, or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen November 9, 2013. U.S. residents only.

Terrance V. Mc Arthur is a California-born, Valley-raised librarian/entertainer/writer. He lives in Sanger, four blocks from the library, with his wife and daughter.