Category Archives: Fiction

Grace in the Wings

Grace in the WingsFlorenz “Flo” Ziegfeld, Jr., Fanny Brice, Mary Pickford, Hedda Hopper. These are a few of the famous Broadway and Hollywood names from the early 20th century mentioned in Kari Bovée’s Grace in the Wings. But this name dropping gets the story off to a very sluggish start.

Grace Michelle, the smart, beautiful, younger sister of Sophia, one of Ziegfeld’s stars in the eponymous Follies, works as an assistant costumier there. After Sophia’s death, Grace is thrown into a number of unusual circumstances, including trying to determine if, and how, Sophia was murdered.

Flo Ziegfield masterminds making Grace the star of his Follies to replace Sophia. He also masterminds sending her on a whistle-stop, cross-country train trip to drum up business for his show. The publicist, Donovan Green, sent along to assist, nearly gets Grace killed during this trip. “How did I get into this mess? All I want to do is design and sew costumes.”  Thus muses Grace to Chet Riker, her bodyguard and new love interest. Did Sophia commit suicide or was it murder? And why would Chet mislead Grace when she asked questions about her sister’s death and the police report?

Change in the Wings

Also, Grace is innocent and naïve at the beginning of Grace in the Wings. For someone orphaned and homeless at a young age, and who then led a life in the theater, she’s too innocent and naïve. Did Grace never wonder what Sophia did to keep them alive while they lived on the street and after Flo Ziegfeld took them under his wing. However, Grace does change and mature as the novel progresses.

I was gradually drawn into Grace in the Wings, even though the plot was sluggish in spots. But tension and suspense did ramp up. Bovée provides great characterization of Grace, Flo Ziegfeld, Fanny Brice and some of the minor characters. Grace, especially, comes into her own.

I look forward to reading other installments of the Grace Michelle Mystery Series.
I received a free e-book copy of Grace in the Wings from ireadbooktours.com in exchange for an honest review.

Giveaway:

Enter to win a $35 PayPal gift card, autographed copy of GRACE AMONG THIEVES, and gift basket containing mouse pad, mug, and tote bag courtesy of the author of the Grace Michelle Mysteries! (one winner/USA only) (ends April 4)

https://gleam.io/0V9S1/grace-among-thieves-grace-michelle-mysteries-tour-giveaway

 

Last Call by Cathi Stoler

Last Call by Cathi StolerWho can you trust, if not your friends, drinking buddies, and regular customers? That’s the question stumping Jude Dillane and Thomas “Sully” Sullivan, her landlord and friend. The dumpster behind The Corner Lounge, Jude’s bar/restaurant hides a body. Turns out, it’s the recently arrived brother of one of Jude’s regular customers, Art Bevins. Who would want him dead, and why? Who among the “10th Street Irregulars,” Sully among them, would have the guts to do such a thing? Last Call by Cathi Stoler keeps the reader guessing.

When Elaine Garlinger, an FBI agent, takes charge of the case, she starts talking about a serial killer. Because of the murder weapon and the physical appearance of the victim, Garlinger connects the current crime to the New Year’s Eve Killer.  And things really heat up for Jude. The killer begins leaving her threatening notes, both at The Corner Lounge and slid under her apartment door. How does he know where she lives? And how does he get into the building, anyway? Why is he so interested in Jude? Does the killer think she’s seen him or knows his identity in some way?

Believable Characters Attract

Believable, likeable characters entice the reader in Last Call by Cathi Stoler. The reader meets characters first seen in Bar None, such as Dean Mason, Jude’s hunky bartender; Sully Sullivan; Tony Napoli (who is this guy anyway?!); and Pete, Jude’s chef and co-owner of The Corner Lounge. Eric, Jude’s new boyfriend, earns a larger part in this second book of Stoler’s Murder on the Rocks series.

I’ve read three of the four books in the Murder on the Rocks series. All of them held my interest based on characterization and, to a lesser extent, plot. I want to read further in this series and look forward to the next installments. See my reviews of Bar None and Straight Up.

I received a free copy of this book from booksirens.com in exchange for an honest review.

Last Call
By Cathi Stoler
© 2020
Level Best Books

Bar None

Bar NoneWe meet Jude Dillane in Bar None, the first installment in Cathie Stoler‘s Murder on the Rocks series. Jude is co-owner of The Corner Lounge, She’s the smart and savvy narrator of this cozy mystery.

Stoler creates likeable characters who have all-too-human flaws and blind spots. Jude is a bright 34-year-old up-and-coming entrepreneur who can’t see that Roger, her current boyfriend is a predator. Sully, an ex-marine is tough and smart except for his choice of the women for whom he falls. Dean, The Corner Lounge’s premier bartender, is handsome and good at his job, but wants to be an actor. So, who knows how long he’ll work at The Corner Lounge. And Peter, the chef/co-owner of The Corner Lounge, creates all kinds of off-beat entrees for the restaurant. All of these characters are memorable and work well together.

When Ed, who works at the Big City Coop with Sully, indicates to him that things aren’t financially correct at the co-op, Sully and Jude begin to nose around. Especially when Ed was killed in Sully’s apartment. When George, another worker at the co-op, has a fatal car crash, things really heat up for Sully and Jude. Who shot Ed? Who pushed George’s car off the road? In fact, who smashed the front window of The Corner Lounge?

Stoler’s meticulous prose keeps the action going at a steady pace and the tension high. But there are three places where the prose is not at its best. For example, when Jude finds Ed-dead in Sully’s apartment, Stoler described the scene as: “Ed was there all right, and he was as dead as the empties from the bar at last call.” Really?

Another miss is when Jade depicts the view from a window in her apartment: “…gazing at the midnight blue sky dotted with stars. They were as bright and unfathomable as the ones that often filled my head.” How many stars can you see from the middle of a large city? Not that many, I think. Too much ambient light.

A third instance was Jude’s description of the traffic sounds she could hear from her apartment. “Like a long and lonely spiral of some long forgotten soulful jazz melody that no longer existed, it wafted up and into my mind.” This is a bit clichéd.

As a whole, I was pleased with, and entertained by, this initial offering in Stoler’s Murder on the Rocks series. Characters are believable and the plot moves along at an even pace.

I look forward to reading the second book in this series. For my review of Straight Up by Cathi Stoler, click here.

I received a free copy of Bar None from booksirens.com in exchange for an honest review.

Never Scot-Free

Never Scot-FreeJC Norton‘s second book in the Stone Ayers series, Never Scot-Free, is a quick but complex read. Norton’s meticulous, spot-on prose makes for a smooth read with effortless transitions.

Stone Ayers works for Dominic Balducci, a restauranteur who also owns multiple other types of businesses. Ayers ostensibly is his Information Technology (IT) guy. Yes, Ayers does work of that sort for Balducci, including programs that keep track of Balducci’s under-the-table operations, of which the biggest is drug dealing in cocaine. But IT isn’t Ayers main job or even his strongest skill. Killing is – Ayers is adept at killing without remorse in a number of different ways. Snapping someone’s neck or having a death appear to be an accident. This skill of Ayers’ came to the forefront during his time in the United States Army Special Rangers.

Ayers’ justification for  his killings is that they are necessary and don’t harm others (no collateral damage, in modern parlance). That is, until he becomes seriously in love with Gudrun Weimar, who he met previously while on assignment on a trip to Antarctica. How will Ayers resolve the conflict between what he does for Balducci and his intense love for Gudrun? This conundrum is not resolved by the end of the book. We can only see what develops over the rest of the series.

Suspension of Disbelief? Maybe Not

This series is entertaining, but there are a few things in Never Scot-Free that may shake up the reader’s suspension of disbelief. Things such as everything being too perfect for both Ayers and Balducci. For example, Ayers is a 6’2”, blonde-haired, blue-eyed Adonis. He has a perfectly shaped body that he, naturally, keeps well-toned. He is on very good terms with Balducci and his family. Ayers loves a beautiful, whip-smart scientist and environmentalist, Gudrun Weimar. He sees no problem disposing of people who appear to be hurting his boss, and whom Dominic Balducci wants eliminated. Ayers “saw himself as being just a particular kind of soldier, working for a commander whom he happened to like a whole lot more than the ones who’d given him orders in the US Army.”

A similar glowing light shines on Dominic Balducci. He’s wealthy, with several businesses. He has a loving wife, Brenda, whom he’s loved since they were teenagers. His 17-year-old son, of whom he’s proud, is smart, honest and has a great girlfriend. Nice house, businesses doing well. Even making a profit from the cocaine sales. Ayers looks up to him because Balducci is “tremendously loyal to those who worked closely with him.”

Peter DelBino, Balducci’s brother-in-law, runs one of Balducci’s businesses and deals cocaine for him, too. DelBino syphons off some of the cocaine he receives and profits by selling it for a higher price to another dealer. Balducci instructs Ayers to find out what’s going on and stop it.

A Little Too Rosy

Never Scot-Free focuses on Ayers’ tracking of DelBino and his associates. Ayers’ relationship with Weimar also matures to a certain extent. This addition to the Ayers series gives enjoyment. But its depiction of Ayers and Balducci is a little too rosy. Lots of good qualities and few or no flaws. Also irritating is Ayers’ and Balducci’s attitude to killing – it’s justified. For example, Balducci had a high opinion of himself: “He was not a bad person, he’d once told Stone. He did bad things sometimes…but only because they were necessary to protect his family and what they had, or to avenge a wrong. He would never ‘turn the other cheek.’ These deeds were, as he saw them, justified, and he did good things too, lots of them.” Such a self-centered philosophy is questionable, to say the least.

Despite the rather too rosy portrayal of Ayers and Balducci, Never Scot-Free was a welcome diversion. Good pacing throughout, even with some overlong descriptions of Ayers’ methods for tracking DelBino. Plus, relished the many “naps” in which Ayers and his amour indulged.

I will continue to read about Stone Ayers and look forward to future installments. For my review of Orca, the first in this series, click here.

I received a free copy of Never Scot-Free in exchange for a voluntary, honest review.

Never Scot-Free
By JC Norton
© 2020
Self-published

Straight Up

Straight UpMoney helps. “It makes everything better.” That’s how Cathi Stoler begins Straight Up. This third novel in Stoler’s On the Rocks series continues the story of Jude Dillane co-owner of The Corner Lounge. Narration switches between Jude and Dolores Castel, a shady female on the prowl for a rich third husband.

Tension arises when Dolores sets her sights on Thomas “Sully” Sullivan as her next catch. But she has to deal with Jude, who’s Sully’s best friend as well as his tenant. Tension also heats up Jude’s world when Art Bevins, a serial killer previously known to Jude, comes hunting for her again. Not to mention that Jude’s boyfriend, Eric, has left her. So, Jude and her crew have to stick together. Not to mention help from some FBI agents assigned to protect Jude until the killer is found. Stoler maintains and heightens the edginess and suspense by alternating narrators at key, strategic points in the plot. Stolen successfully keeps the reader on edge until the end.

Stoler’s well-defined prose helps keep Straight Up moving at a quick, even, pace. well-rounded characters with human quirks and failings as well as likeable qualities populate this novel. Dillane and Sully, Peter and Dean, Ari Maguire and Elaine Garlinger, even Dolores Castel and Art Bevins, are people you’d love or love to hate.

This is the first work by Cathi Stoler that I’ve read. Straight Up can be read as a stand-alone work but does make references to plot points from the previous two works in this series. Those references did not hinder my enjoyment of the book or understanding the plot. My enjoyment of this work will lead me to read other books by Stoler. I’ll especially read the first two installments in the On the Rocks series, Bar None and Last Call.

I received a free copy of this work from booksirens.com in exchange for my voluntary, honest review.

Straight Up
by Cathi Stoler
© 2021
Level Best Books

Napa Noir

Napa NoirMany people might think that wine making is all about growing the right grapes in the right environment. Then sitting back to watch the grapes grow and the money roll in. Not so. Tax evasion, stealing grapes, mislabeling wine, selling cheap wine at higher prices, murder. All of these illegal tidbits make Peter Eichstaedt’s Napa Noir an excellent, thrilling read.

Dante Rath works for the Santa Rosa Sun. He writes “The Grapes of Rath,” the newspaper’s wine column about Northern California’s extensive upscale wine industry. A real come-down for a hot-shot, award-winning investigative journalist. Or so he thinks. Until, that is, two men are shot and killed at a Napa Valley winery. Was it for money? Or is there more involved? Rath jumps in to investigate for the paper rather than the regular newbie crime beat reporter. Told from Rath’s point of view, we get to hear his thoughts on his fact finding and exploration of the murder story. We are also privy to his thoughts about his deceased wife and his withdrawal from dating and a love life after her death.

Wine, Women and Money

From his anxiety-caused indigestion and digestive upset to his renewed interest in women, Rath is a likeable and believable narrator and protagonist. We learn of Rath’s panning of the wines of the largest winery in the area, run by wealthy entrepreneur Riccardo Santos. Also, we watch his courting of Carmen Carelli, an ambitious lawyer representing some of the elite in the California wine industry. Rath is definitely relatable.

Peter Eichstaedt’s Napa Noir is an enjoyable, fast-paced read. In addition to Rath and Carelli, supporting characters are well-rounded. Mei Ling, Marvee McGregor, and an African-American cab driver help bring this murder mystery to life.

I look forward to reading any future books that Eichstaedt adds to this first of his Wine Country Mysteries

I received a copy of this book from www.readersfavorite.com in exchange for an honest review.

 

Napa Noir
by Peter Eichstaedt
© 2018
Wild Blue Press

The Game’s Afoot: A Holmesian Miscellany

The Game's Afoot: A Holmesian MiscellanyBooks about fictional detectives—especially Sherlock Holmes—keep reproducing in my pile of books to be read. Much the same way as tribbles did in the original Star Trek TV series. (Anyone remember that besides me? Or am I really dating myself?) Novels, anthologies, what have you, about Sherlock Holmes multiply while I’m not watching. One such book is a slim short story collection by Bradley H. Sinor entitled The Game’s Afoot: A Holmesian Miscellany.

Three stories in this collection do not feature Holmes or Watson at all but feature other characters in the Holmes milieu. One such story includes Colonel Sebastian Moran, erstwhile associate of Professor Moriarty. Two other tales highlight Mycroft Holmes as detective/spy master. All of the adventures are of sufficient length and detail to give the reader an enjoyable view into the world of Holmes, Watson, et al. Unusual subject matter, such as vampires and alternate universes, enlivens a few of the tales. In “The Other Detective,” Holmes and Moriarty switch roles as the World’s First Consulting Detective and the Napoleon of Crime.

Precise prose enables these adventures to move along at a steady clip. Holmes inhabits his position as a man of few words but is somewhat less curmudgeonly than in Conan Doyle’s canon. Watson, a widower in these stories, meets the woman of his dreams for a second time in one of these narratives.

The Game’s Afoot: A Holmesian Miscellany is a nice change of pace considering the subject matter and change of worlds and lead characters in some of the stories.

The Game’s Afoot: A Holmesian Miscellany
by Bradley H. Sinor
© 2016
Pro Se Productions, LLC

Additional Investigations of Sherlock Holmes

Additional Investigations of Sherlock HolmesThe Additional Investigations of Sherlock Holmes is a repackaging of seven tales written by Arthur Hall, a British author. David Marcum, a noted writer and editor of Sherlock Holmes pastiches, novels and anthologies, edited this volume. The specific stories contained in this volume were previously published in various editions of The MX Book of New Sherlock Holmes Stories.

Although “The Adventure of the Disappearing Prisoner” is rather straightforward and offers a minimum of mystery, some of the other stories are more curious and puzzling. “The Adventure of the Drewhampton Poisoner” includes an Asian poison with which Holmes is unfamiliar, which is quickly rectified. Holmes’ familiarity with tattoos and the inks used in such also plays a role in that story. “The Adventure of the Returning Spirit” reveals Watson as a widower. This story incorporates an attempt to deceive him into believing his wife’s ghost had returned. Holmes, of course, debunks that theory. This adventure encompasses pure Watson and Holmes with Watson acting as a decoy while accompanying Lestrade in his duties. Holmes, meanwhile, follows in disguise.

Admirable Depiction of Holmes and Watson

Hall portrays Holmes and Watson in a fashion similar to Conan Doyle. Watson narrates the tales and shines a complimentary light on Holmes. Both characters are well-rounded, intelligent, and well-defined. The adventures are fairly quick reads and entertaining. The precise prose of Arthur Hall recalls the clear-cut, decisive prose of Conan Doyle. Most of Hall’s adventures elicit the same enjoyment at the denouement as the stories in the original canon. Such is the case in “The Adventure of Miss Anna Truegrace,” for example. With an unexpected twist, this case illustrates Holmes capturing a murderer involved in a very cold case. Thus, the seven cases rereleased as The Additional Investigations of Sherlock Holmes deserve a second reading if you’ve enjoyed them in their previous incarnations. They most definitely deserve a first reading if you are new to Arthur Hall’s incarnation of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson.

I received a free copy of this book from www.reedsy.com/discovery in exchange for an honest review.

The Additional Investigations of Sherlock Holmes
By Arthur Hall
Edited by David Marcum
© 2022
MX Publishing

Kernels: Stories by Mary Behan

Kernels: StoriesProse that’s precise and incisive defines Mary Behan’s treatment of the stories in Kernels: Stories. The characters who populate her stories exhibit unique and specific traits and mannerisms. For example, the unnamed narrator of “Dangerous Building” has buried memories of her younger years. She does so because they interfere with the pleasant way in which she wishes to remember aspects of her childhood. Things about the local manor house near where the narrator grew up are more than half forgotten. Memories of that long-ago time are not quite accurate.

In other stories, hopes and dreams are dashed only to have other dreams take their place in some cases. In “Imagined Scenes” Jennifer Fowler dreams of riding the Trans-Siberian Railway on its lengthy trip. For her, “each scene along the way had its own vivid color, smell and sound.” But due to imagined time and work constraints, “the Great Railway Bazaar scenes faded gradually as the years went by.” Jennifer ends up taking a totally different ride that opens up other dreams and vistas. In “All that Glitters is Not Gold,” Ellen drifts from loving Peter to having a friendship with Peter’s wife, Julia.

Location, Location, Location

Location is a character in several of Behan’s stories. In “Buried Treasure” location throws a distinct shadow. The pine woods and rocky ridge near Kate’s property throw a shadowy, slightly sinister chill over the story. Kate hears voices and smells cooking from a bygone era while walking on her property and the local nature preserve. In “Dangerous Building” the reader can visualize the broken-down manor house with its driveway bordered by rhododendrons and beech trees.

I enjoyed all of the stories in Kernels: Stories. These stories shone a light on different lives and circumstances. Behan’s prose provides the right touch to illuminate her characters and their background. Very well done.

I received a copy of this book from readersfavorite.com in exchange for an honest review.

Kernels: Stories
By Mary Behan
© 2021
Laurence Gate Press

Finding Napoleon

Finding NapoleonMargaret Rodenberg’s Finding Napoleon is a lush, slow-burn romance between Napoleon Bonaparte and his lover, Albine de Montholon. Rodenberg’s historical novel examines Napoleon’s life after his defeat at Waterloo through life in exile on St. Helena. Narration alternates among Napoleon, Albine de Montholon, and Rodenberg’s take on the novel Napoleon wrote while in his 20s.

Napoleon shines in a clear, kindly light. Love for his son, sired with Marie Louise, his second wife, and esteem for his mother mark Napoleon as very human. He hides, or tries to, his stomach ailment. Napoleon, the regal emperor in front of his troops and the public, is likeable and flawed behind closed doors. According to Albine, “Before we’d shared a bed, I had thought he would be remote, noble, a romantic painting. Instead, I got warm flesh, a chuckle, a fart between the sheets. Human, yes, but a better species.”

Albine de Montholon, the wife of an aristocrat, deals in treachery and plays both sides—those supporting Napoleon and those against. That is, before she follows him into exile, becomes his mistress, and loves him. “There I was, forty-three years old, on my third husband, countless men in between. Far too late to be enchanted. Not a time to fall in love.”

With hints of treachery, whiffs of lust, Rodenberg draws the reader into her story. She embodies the characters with totally believable human traits. Napoleon realizes his loneliness, even among his followers, hangers-on really, in his last exile. “The Emperor swallowed the burn in his throat. He might lead these people, but not a one of them was his friend.” How prescient. Some of those French hangers-on sold secrets to the British who monitored Napoleon’s exile in St. Helena. “Over the years, he’d grown accustomed to living among traitors.” But in this fictional narrative, Napoleon had devout friends in an American gardener and an African slave boy.

My one dislike is that the pace is slow and delves too much into minutiae. But ultimately, this is historical fiction at its best. Rodenberg’s prose brings Napoleon to life as well as those hangers-on that lived with him in his St. Helena exile.

I received a copy of this book from www.readersfavorite.com in exchange for an honest review.

Finding Napoleon
by Margaret Rodenberg
© 2021
She Writes Press