Category: Mysteries

Book Review: The Safecracker’s Secret by Sandra Bretting

“The Safecracker’s Secret” is a wonderful stand-alone book that focuses on the developing relationship between Gene, an elderly safecracker, and his college-aged protege Skye. Each individual is given a detailed personality and back story, and I felt that I grew to know and understand each of them as the story progressed. Watching their relationship grow from their first meeting in Gene’s lock shop through the end of the book was truly a pleasure. (Note: This is an age-appropriate mentor/mentee relationship, NOT a May-December romantic one.)

Gene’s safecracking skills are sometimes utilized by the local (Houston) police, and this time around he’s involved in a case involving drugs being sold to students at Skye’s college. Part of the story revolves around trying to solve this case, but the main focus of the book is on Skye and Gene. There is a good bit for the reader to think about in terms of family relationships, which could make for interesting book club discussions.

Another aspect of this book that I enjoyed was that chapters are told from the perspectives of different characters. Gene and Skye (naturally) have the most chapters, but it was nice to hear from Reef (an employee at Gene’s shop) and police detective Boudreaux occasionally as well. This provided unique insights into different parts of the story. I loved how everything was woven together in the end.

I highly recommend this to anyone who enjoys a quality character/relationship-driven story with a touch of mystery.

Five out of five slices of yummy provolone!

Book Review: A Wild Ride by Jane Tesh

First, I have to say that I don’t usually choose to start a series with the sixth book. However, that’s just what I did with “A Wild Ride”. Why, you might ask? It’s simple…because of the author! While I’m new to the Madeline Maclin series, I’m a huge fan of Jane Tesh’s “Grace Street Mysteries”, so when the opportunity to read this one arose, I was happy to take it!

As a reader who is new to this series, I can honestly say that the book works fine as a standalone. Obviously, you’ll know more about what happened in the past if you’ve already read books 1-5, but I had no trouble figuring out who everyone was, and how they relate to each other. Speaking of the characters….they’re great! Ms. Tesh has created some very clear, well-defined major characters. Many of the minor characters were unique as well, and all added something important to the story.

The main mystery was very well-written, with plenty of clues, suspects, and red herrings for the reader to follow along with Madeline. Since she’s actually a PI, she has an established and logical investigating style, which I found enjoyable. As an added bonus, the major case in this installment centers around the theft of paintings from an art gallery….which means lots of focus on the art world and the unique characters that inhabit it. I found this setting fascinating! There were some smaller/side mysteries as well, and those were also handled perfectly. For added fun, a local reporter has decided to create a You Tube show about Madeline’s life and career. He adds a dash of humor and joy to each scene in which he appears.

All in all, a great mystery! I plan to read the earlier volumes of Madeline’s adventures when time permits, and eagerly await the next book!

Five out of five dollops of the creamiest cream cheese!

Book Review: Under the Blood Tree by P.J. Grondin

I enjoyed reading “Under the Blood Tree”, a suspense novel by P.J. Grondin. First, the characters were very well-written. All of the major characters had very clear, unique personalities, and it was easy to keep everyone straight. I enjoyed “meeting” them as children during the back story part of the book, them comparing those early impressions to the adults they became by the “present day” part of the story. It was interesting to see how each one matured, and was affected by the events of the past.

The mystery itself was also very well-plotted. There were a lot of intricate details that all fit together perfectly as new clues were uncovered and new evidence came to light. Everything made sense in the end. The main thing that I have to say is that I was so impressed and pleased with the level of detail and interconnected plot points throughout this novel. It was so INTRICATE…the author obviously devoted himself to making sure all the tiny elements worked together properly, and that not a detail was out of place. If you’re expecting a good mystery/suspense story, you won’t be disappointed. But this book is so much more….the detail, the many small connections, the intricacy….this book was a breath of fresh air!

I’d be remiss if I didn’t also mention the detailed descriptions of the trailer park, the local area, and the lake. I felt like I could close my eyes and actually see what the characters were seeing. The weather plays a big role in the plot, and I appreciated seeing the effects that it had on the characters and town.

All in all, I can happily rate this book five out of five chunks of spicy Pepper-Jack cheese!

Book Review: Juggling Kittens by Matt Coleman

I was thrilled to be selected as a reviewer for “Juggling Kittens” by Pandamoon Publishing. I probably would not have discovered this book (and author) otherwise, and that would have been a shame. The author has a true gift for combining his life experiences with fictional situations in a highly compelling storytelling style. Drawing on his own history as a teacher, Mr. Coleman creates protagonist Ellis Mazer, a first-time teacher in Ruddy Creek, Arkansas. Everything about the teaching experience rings true, and Ellis’s musings about his career and life would have made for fascinating reading even without the mystery element.

Ellis quickly encounters a missing student, local thugs, drug dealers, and various other situations that I sincerely hope are entirely fictional. Everything feels authentic for the time and place in which it occurs, and makes for a great story as Ellis tries to find his student while maintaining his career and preparing for a new baby.

The major characters are all well drawn and intricate, and felt very much like real people. Settings were described with enough detail that I could envision them without bogging down the narrative. There’s plenty of action and investigating for the mystery fans, adeptly interspersed with character moments and daily events.

All in all, an excellent (and slightly haunting) novel, and I am thankful to have had the opportunity to read it.

Five out of five chunks of my favorite cheddar!

Book Review: Hip Set by Michael Fertik

I have nothing but good things to say about “Hip Set” by Michael Fertik. I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect from this novel, but I ended up loving everything about it.

First off, I appreciated the setting….Tel Aviv, Israel, from the perspective of both natives and immigrants. The author provides detailed descriptions of the area, local businesses and residences, and daily life. I feel like I learned some things about modern-day Israel that I hadn’t thought about before. In addition, I learned a lot about the experiences of refugees in that country.

The actual mystery was also excellent. A corpse is discovered without ID, and our heroes must figure out who he was, who killed him, and why. Along the way, there is a great deal of investigating, interviewing, and theorizing, and I enjoyed observing while all of this took place. The pacing is good as well. While the action isn’t non-stop, there aren’t any dull moments either.

My favorite part of the novel was the character of Oscar Orleans himself. An African refugee and longtime resident of Tel Aviv hoping to gain citizenship some day, Oscar is a beautiful, practical, introspective man. It was a joy to gradually gain more and more insight into his character as the story progressed. His working relationship and friendship with police inspector Kobi Sambinsky also provides many valuable character moments.

I truly hope this book marks the start of an ongoing series, because I would love to read more about Oscar and Kobi and their future cases.

5 out of 5 perfect slices of provolone!

Book Review: Cold Conviction by Daryl Wood Gerber

“Cold Conviction” by Daryl Wood Gerber is the fabulous third book in the Aspen Adams series. Just when I honestly thought I couldn’t love the series any more than I already did, this book changed my mind. “Cold Conviction” offered up everything I love about the series, plus a few new elements:

  1. Great characters! Aspen, our heroine, is wonderful. She simultaneously comes across as likable, intelligent, brave (but not stupidly so), and honorable. Her PI skills are improving the longer she work for Aunt Max, and her confidence in herself and her abilities is increasing as well. Combined with her past career as a psychologist, Aspen has all the tools needed to effectively unravel mysteries. I was thrilled to see her really “coming into her own” as an investigator in this installment. We didn’t get as much of Nick, Candace, and Max this time around, but they all made appearances. We did spend a bit more time with Rosie (if mostly by phone), and got to meet plenty of new folks. We also got to know Aspen’s deceased parents (and grandparents) in more detail. Also: More of Antoine in the next book, please!
  2. The location! While I love reading about the Lake Tahoe area where Aspen lives, it was also fun to travel with her to the Bay area and learn more about it. I especially appreciated Aspen’s nostalgia for Lake Tahoe, even as she enjoyed reconnecting with old friends and places in her (temporary) new location.
  3. The mystery itself! This book addresses a critical cold case: the decade-old unsolved mystery of who killed Aspen’s parents. She was a college student at the time of the crime, and not able to do much more than try to get through the experience. Now, Aspen is proving to be a thorough and relentless investigator, and I appreciated the methodical way she worked through all the old clues and information. The plot was intricate and detailed, but everything fit together perfectly. I was able to figure out of it, but part of it came as a surprise…this is ideal…it means the author provided enough clues to point the reader in the right direction, but was clever enough not to make it too obvious!
  4. Hints of the future: This book wrapped up with some interesting developments. I won’t say more to avoid spoilers, but I can’t wait to see what happens in book 4!

Five out of delicious blocks of medium cheddar!

Book Review: Gone Daddy Blues by Jane Tesh

Every so often, I’ll pick up a book midway through a series, and enjoy it so much I can’t believe I hadn’t been reading it since book one. “Gone Daddy Blues” was one of those cases! It’s book 7 in the Grace Street Mysteries series, but the first one I’ve read. From the perspective of someone who missed books 1-6, I can say that this title definitely works as a standalone. I had no trouble jumping right in and figuring out who everyone was and their relationships with one another. Some brief mentions of earlier events had me curious to start from the beginning, and I’ve already acquired the first book in the series, “Stolen Hearts”. However, the references to the past weren’t overwhelming, and knowledge of those old cases isn’t necessary to completely understand and enjoy this story.

Main character David is a private investigator who (helpfully) has the ear and friendship of the main local detective. His best friend (and owner of the boardinghouse he lives in) Camden is a psychic, which also comes in handy during investigations. I enjoyed how all three men sometimes worked together in the name of solving the case and saving lives. Of note, David has a bit of paranormal skill himself, as he occasionally hears from spirits, including his deceased daughter.

This book centers on two inter-related cases: David is asked to track down a teenage girl’s deadbeat father, and a serial killer is targeting local blond women. Both are interesting cases and it was enjoyable to watch David working on them, both with and without the help of Jordan (detective) and Camden. I liked the birds-eye view into the inner workings of a PI agency, and the various tactics David employed to find resolution for his clients. While the deadbeat dad case was fairly straightforward, the serial killer issue involved plenty of suspects, clues, red herrings, and people to interview. I give “Gone Daddy Blues” high marks for being an all-around quality mystery novel.

What made me really love the book, and made it stand out in the genre, was the relationship between David and Camden. It’s clear that the two men enjoy a real, genuine friendship, and it was a delight to observe their interactions. They almost seem like brothers, having fun together, helping each other, and bringing out the best in each other. I am eager to go back to the first book and see how it all began.

All in all, I happily give “Gone Daddy Blues” five out of five chunks of yummy Camembert.

Book Review: The Arlington Orders by Elliot Mason

“The Arlington Orders” is the perfect mix of a plot-driven thriller and a character-driven literary novel. There’s a lot going on in this book, and all of it is interesting. The modern-day quest to find the lost Confederate treasury is interspersed with the Civil War storyline, which is accompanied by some fictional (but very realistic) primary sources. I enjoyed both aspects….following the clues along with main characters Des and Madison, and reliving history with the older storyline. Once Des and Madison accidentally stumble upon the first clue, they are 100% committed to solving the mystery, and throw themselves into it with abandon and enthusiasm. There is enough excitement, danger, and suspense to keep any mystery or thriller fan happy.

In addition, the characters were exceptionally well written. Often in this type of story, the major characters are little more than caricatures; pretty much anyone could be dropped into the roles, as the plot is the most important thing. In this book, the characters are equally important. It is obvious that the author thought about each of them a great deal, and provides enough back story for each that the reader can really understand why they are unique and what motivates them. As Des and Madison interact during their mission, the reader also gets to observe the character development of both. William 2.0 is also interesting, as his motives aren’t the same as what you’d typically expect for a character in his role. I enjoyed his misgivings about his partner, and appreciated his dedication to his goal and his internal monologue throughout.

I must also mention that the locations were amazing! I live in the general area of many of the book’s events, and am familiar with most of the locations…I’ve even been to quite a few. I appreciated the attention to detail included…the places are described well enough to ring true to a “local”, and to be very clear for a reader less familiar with the area.

All in all, an exceptionally well-written novel. I look forward to following Des and Madison on their next escapade!

Five out of five perfect, thin slices of provolone!

Book Review: Fan Mail by Daryl Wood Gerber

“Fan Mail” by Daryl Wood Gerber is the fabulous follow-up to “Desolate Shores”, which I read and loved in 2019. Going into this book, I was hoping I’d love it as much as the first one, and I did…maybe even more. “Fan Mail” offers the reader:

1. Great characters! Aspen, our heroine, is wonderful. She simultaneously comes across as likable, intelligent, brave (but not stupidly so), and honorable. She works as a PI-in-training for her aunt’s agency, and is gradually honing her investigative skills. Combined with her past career as a psychologist, Aspen has all the tools needed to effectively unravel mysteries. Love interest Nick (police detective), Max (Aspen’s aunt), and Candace (Aspen’s niece) are also nicely drawn and intriguing in their own right. Several of the secondary characters/suspects really shone in the story, being quite well-developed as characters so that the reader gets to know them while Aspen investigates their connection (if any) to the crimes.

2. The location! “Desolate Shores” is set in the Lake Tahoe area. The author describes the setting (and specific locations within that setting) so perfectly, I can see everything clearly in my mind’s eye. I’ve added Lake Tahoe to the list of places I’d love to visit someday. The setting is distinctive enough to almost seem like a separate character in the story. Personally, I love it when a novel’s setting is so vivid I actually remember the location after I’ve finished. This one will stay with me for a long time!

3. The mystery itself! This book features a serial killer who is still actively committing crimes, so the stakes are high. Aspen knows the first victim, and is drawn into the investigation further when a friend starts receiving notes believed to be from the killer. With the multiple victims, there are plenty of suspects, as well as the whole “are all of these crimes related” question. Aspen is proving to be a thorough and relentless investigator, and I find her method of looking into things very appealing.

4. Candace! Aspen’s niece is a lovely girl, and it was nice to see her living with her aunt permanently in this book. I also enjoyed seeing how she’s gaining confidence in herself as a person, even as she navigates the trials of middle-school life. May she find a better boyfriend in the next book….Aspen should dig up some dirt on the current one, and blackmail him out of Candace’s life.

All in all, this is a wonderful book, and I can’t say enough good things about it. Read it…you will NOT be disappointed. I love everything that Daryl Wood Gerber writes, and recommend that all fans of the mystery/suspense genre acquire one (or more) of her books as soon as possible.

Five out of perfect slices of provolone!