Smugglers & Scones

Smugglers and Scones

Smugglers & Scones by Morgan C. Talbot (Cozy Mystery)

This cozy mystery has the clever setting of a bed and breakfast devoted to mystery writers, giving the spunky young proprietor, Pippa, plenty of amateur help in solving the murders that plague her seaside Oregon town. The B&B, once the home the home of a famous mystery author, also provides additional clues through its collections of his books and notes and Pippa’s uncle’s knowledge of the late mystery writer’s personal history in the town. The writer himself shows up in the book through the quotes that open each chapter, giving us a sense of a gruff, cigarette-smoking, heavy drinking, no-nonsense tough guy straight out of the 1940s.

Pippa is a lively narrator who immediately grabbed my interest. I also enjoyed the author’s flair for dialogue, giving different characters different speech habits that added to their believability. Her descriptions of the Oregon seacoast made me feel as though I was there, and the major characters became people I could visualize and care about. I did find Pippa’s immediate and constant drooling over the love interest, Lake, unrealistic and hard to take at times. I also question the value of including the part about the Glaze and Gossip club, since they mostly came off as a group of nosy women with nothing better to do than worry about other people’s business and felt more like a device than a real part of the story.

Overall, I found this book to be a quick, light, and enjoyable read, and I think the Moorehaven Mysteries series is one I’ll look forward to following.

Bella gives Smugglers and Scones four stars. 4 stars

Bella Reads and Reviews Books received a free copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

The Antique House Murders

The Antique House Murders Cover

The Antique House Murders by Leslie Nagel (Cozy Mystery)

This is the second book in the Oakwood Mystery Series, the first being the entertaining The Book Club Murders which we reviewed in October, 2016. Amateur sleuth Charley Carpenter, the indomitable young owner of a vintage clothing shop, is back, this time intent on solving the murder of a friend during an apparent break-in and robbery gone wrong.

Tempers are flaring in Oakwood, Ohio. Plans to demolish an historic old mansion to make way for development are hotly contested, and folks in town are taking sides, sometimes with violent results. With her personal connection to the murder victim, Charley can’t stay out of the action, even though her snooping defies angry warnings from her police detective boyfriend and puts their relationship at risk.

Familiar friends from the first book are here, but we see less of them as Charley takes on more of a solo approach this time that gets her into plenty of trouble. There are enough twists and turns and potentially guilty people to keep the reader unsure of who the perpetrator might be right up to the end. The author does a good job of moving things along while providing an appropriate amount of description that puts us in close contact with the smells, sights, and sounds of the formerly elegant but now decrepit old house and all the secrets it holds. Charley, her long-suffering boyfriend, and her two best friends are likeable characters who keep things fun and interesting, and Book Two in the Oakwood Mystery Series does not disappoint.

Grandma gives The Antique House Murders five stars. 5 stars

Bella Reads and Reviews Books received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review and participation in the post-release blog tour.

The Fix

The Fix

The Fix by David Baldacci (Thriller)

If one reads enough thrillers, the themes become familiar: espionage, terrorism, governmental corruption, Russian mafia, special forces, stolen secrets, and so on. What differentiates these stories are the details and how the imminent threat to national security will be resolved. What also differentiates them is the main characters, the players who will solve the crime, stop the destruction, and foil the evil-doers. Character development—creating someone we feel we know and whose success we care about—becomes paramount if a story is going to keep us invested in the outcome.

In The Fix, David Baldacci gives us Amos Decker, a former football player with a tragic family history and a brain damaged by a sports injury that ended his career. As a result of the brain injury, he has a photographic memory and the ability to see auras, including colors that portend death, and he has lost his social skills. He’s great at parsing the details and seeing what others don’t see, but he’s a challenge to work with and pretty hopeless at establishing relationships. His female partner, FBI agent Alex Jamison, is a former reporter who sometimes has second thoughts about her career change and obviously has feelings for Decker, even though he frustrates the heck out of her. Together they provide the right mix of skill and vulnerability, and when we add in DIA agent Harper Brown—an amazing woman in her own right—and a cast of suspects that keep us guessing as to who did what and why, we have a book that’s hard to put down.

Baldacci is a prolific and accomplished author whose pacing, details, and storyline kept me absorbed from beginning to end. The Fix is the third book in the Amos Decker series, and having read it, I now want to go back and read the first two, Memory Man and The Guilty.

Grandma gives The Fix five stars. 5 stars

Give Me a K-I-L-L

Give Me a KILL

Give Me a K-I-L-L by R.L. Stine (YA Thriller)

This latest addition to R.L. Stine’s Fear Street series incorporates the usual mean girls, snotty cheerleaders, school officials with no backbone, and annoying, clueless parents. A highly talented, but troubled, cheerleader from another school moves into town, threatening the makeup of the entrenched cheerleading squad, with murder and mayhem as a result.

Young adult readers, including those reading teen horror, deserve better from R.L. Stine. Besides stunted, uninteresting sentences that seem to assume the reader is incapable of reading anything more complex, the characters in this book are hard to care about, the ending wraps up problems the reader never knew were problems, and there are very basic errors, like saying the aorta in a victim’s neck was eaten away by acid. The aorta is not in the neck.

To make things worse, we have to believe the perp is using acid that’s strong enough to eat through skin, muscle, windpipe, and esophagus to get to the aorta — which, if it were there, would most likely be against the vertebrae — but somehow the acid has no effect on the vulnerable parts of the item it coats. Not to mention that any high-schooler who has taken basic chemistry knows that concentrated sulfuric acid fumes would be a dead (pun intended) giveaway, and the victim would have to be severely distracted (think comatose) not to notice before picking up said item and putting it to her throat.

Other than a scene involving cockroaches, there’s not much here that rates as creepy. There’s nothing deep and psychological and no real build-up to a total freak-out moment. The closest we come is a fairly glossed-over minor scene with the big question: will one cheerleader catch another or let her fall on her head?

I expected a whole lot more from R.L. Stine.

Bella gives Give Me a K-I-L-L two stars (Not enthusiastic, but you may be.). 2-stars

Potty-mouth Index: CLEAN

Bella Reads and Reviews received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Oath of Honor

oath-of-honor

Oath of Honor by Matthew Betley (Thriller)

This page-turner kept me reading into the night, and the action never stopped. Anyone who enjoys thrillers with lots of involvement by covert government agencies and special ops forces will find this a satisfying read full of all the requisite suspense, anti-American global conspirators, highly trained specialists, and a traitor somewhere in the upper echelons of the U.S. government.

The main characters, former Marines Logan West and John Quick, are wise-cracking, close-as-can-be brothers in arms who now work as members of an FBI special task force. They are likeable, far-from-perfect individuals whose skills and dedication are put to the test as they search for stolen technology that has the potential to start a war between the U.S. and China. In addition to following the action through them, we also enter the worlds and minds of the co-conspirators from Sudan and China who are racing to put their stolen technology to use. And we meet other highly skilled special ops personnel, including the amazing and enigmatic Amira, who adds her own female awesomeness to the action. We also get a glimpse of the good-natured competitiveness between agencies and branches of the armed forces while they cover each other’s backs without compromise.

Oath of Honor is the second book in The Logan West Thrillers series that began with Overwatch. Author Matthew Betley is a former Marine with a high level of experience in the areas about which he writes and is also a recovering alcoholic, a trait he has given Logan West as part of his personal struggles. The result is a book that grabs the reader from the action-packed first chapter and just keeps on going to the ready-for-more conclusion.

Grandma gives Oath of Honor five stars. 5 stars

Bella Reads and Reviews received a free ARC of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

The Lost Order

the-lost-order

The Lost Order by Steve Berry (Thriller)

The Lost Order is the latest in the Cotton Malone adventure series, and what an adventure it is. Incorporating the Civil War-era secret society known as Knights of the Golden Circle and the present-day halls and back rooms of the Smithsonian Institution, this is a book full of political intrigue, ruthless treasure hunters, and steadfast individuals devoted to protecting a legacy most of us know nothing about.

Fact: In mid-nineteenth century United States, a clandestine organization of southerners known as The Knights of the Golden Circle wanted to annex territory in Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean for the purpose of forming a southern empire, creating a “golden circle” of slave-holding states with its hub in Havana, Cuba. They amassed a fortune in gold and silver to finance the venture, but when the Civil War interfered, they buried their fortune in remote locations in the hopes that their plans might be resurrected someday. They left clues in the woods for those who knew how to recognize them and vested Individuals known as sentinels with the responsibility of protecting the hidden caches from treasure hunters. Confederate records, including those of the Knights, disappeared during the Civil War, and the full extent of the secret society’s reach and fortune is unknown.

Fiction: Two present-day factions of the Knights are close to finding a major vault of Confederate gold hidden in the Southwest. One faction plans to use it for nefarious purposes, the other wants to preserve it for posterity. Cotton Malone, former Justice Department agent, is called back into service because his ancestor was a Confederate spy who may be the final link to locating the vault before the Knights do. He and a former president of the United States are the last hopes for stopping a major disruption to Congress and for bringing cold-blooded killers to justice.

This book is enjoyable on many levels – as a thriller with the code-breaking aspects of The DaVinci Code, as a fascinating account of a dangerous secret society in American history, and as an insider’s romp through the back rooms, tunnels, and hidden places in the Smithsonian Institution.

Author Steve Berry is a history buff and preservationist, as well as a seasoned writer, and he also serves on the Smithsonian Libraries Advisory Board. This heavily researched work is packed with authentic information that illuminates as well as entertains, leaving the reader with the satisfying sense of having learned something while enjoying the action that never stops. Whether it’s the workings of Congress, the existence of hidden caches of gold and silver buried across the U.S., or the fascinating history of the Smithsonian itself, Berry keeps it interesting and relevant while providing a complicated plot with plenty of dangerous players and harrowing situations.

Grandma gives The Lost Order five stars. 5 stars

Bella Reads and Reviews received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

The Lost Order will be released on April 4, 2017, and is available for pre-order.