Book Review: LynDee Walker’s Front Page Fatality

16080778Title: Front Page Fatality
Author: LynDee Walker
Genre: Mystery
Series: Yes / Book 1
Rating: 5 out of 5
My Copy: Purchased

Richmond Telegraph crime reporter, Nichelle Clark, dreams of working for The Washington Post, however; she has yet to make an impression on them. Steadily working her beat, she’s never far from her police scanner in hopes of chasing the story that will give her the break she needs. When a drug dealer is found murdered, police are quick to assume it was a vigilante behind it, but nothing about the crime scene makes sense. Nichelle’s given a key piece of evidence and begins some overwhelming research, only to realize that everything is not what it seems to be.

Nichelle has a good reason to suspect everyone around her. Bob, her boss, takes her under his wing encouraging her to be cautious with whom she trusts. When fellow reporter, Grant Parker, suddenly becomes friendly, Nichelle brushes him off until she begins to suspect his own nefarious plans. Why was Parker present at the accident scene involving a police boat and baseball players? Why is he interested in assisting in her investigation? How can a sports columnist afford a brand new BMW motorcycle? Nichelle quickly begins to suspect there’s more to Parker and while she wants to tell Bob about her suspicions, she can’t.

Character development is strong. Nichelle is intelligent and resourceful. While her weakness is designer shoes, she’s the first to admit how impractical heels can be in certain situations. She’s also able to protect herself and attends daily body combat classes. Here we have a strong female character who isn’t going into situations not knowing how to defend herself. Readers will be able to associate with Nichelle’s work nemesis. We’ve all come across the jealous co-worker who assumes we are the cause of their failures. In this case we have Shelby and she’s irritating, but I can give the girl some credit; she sees an opportunity and pounces on it. I personally loved the interaction between Nichelle and Charlie, the local news anchor and rival. I’m sure in real life, these types of relationships happen and Walker did an excellent job showing the differences between a seasoned crime beat reporter versus a neophyte.

I adored Front Page Fatality! The writing is engaging and witty, “But that’s the thing about dead people: they can’t warn you to keep your nose out of things that are going to put your ass in danger.” It’s also a fast paced read. In terms of the mystery, usually I can figure it out, but let’s just say I was led on a merry chase along with Nichelle. When she uncovers the whole truth, I felt emotionally drained. Finally we have a name behind the events and it all makes sense. I also particularly liked the scenes that took place at the newspaper headquarters. Walker was a journalist and she’s able to make a fine transition in describing how a newspaper works. She reminds me of Chelsea Cain who utilizes the newspaper aspect in her Archie / Gretchen novels (Cain herself was a former reporter).

LynDee Walker’s Front Page Fatality is a strong debut and I can’t wait to read future books in the series. If you’re a fan of cozy-mysteries, I highly recommend this book.

Book Review: Alan Cupp’s Malicious Masquerade

17132951Title: Malicious Masquerade
Author: Alan Cupp
Genre: Mystery
Series: No
Rating: 4 out of 5
My Copy: Advance Reader Copy via NetGalley courtesy of Henery Press

Where is Tyler Moore? That’s the question Alan Cupp has us asking in Malicious Masquerade. When Jasper Bedford’s daughter, Cindy, is jilted at the altar, Jasper begins to wonder if something may have happened to Tyler. Jasper quickly assembles a search team and the results surprise him, yet yield little information as to Tyler’s whereabouts. Unbeknownst to Jasper, Cindy hires a private investigator to find Tyler because she believes something must have happened to him. Jasper tries to convince Cindy of the truth: Tyler used her for monetary gain; despite showing her evidence of his guilt, she doesn’t believe it. When she meets with Carter Mays, the Chicago PI she hires, she’s convinced he can find Tyler within days and Carter is unsure if he wants to take this case. He has a reason to be suspicious: the authorities haven’t been alerted to Tyler’s disappearance. The deeper Carter digs, the more he uncovers and soon he’s questioning who he can trust.

Character development is strong and yet we don’t really get to know Carter. It was almost as if Cupp focused primarily on the Bedfords with Carter being secondary. Don’t get me wrong, it works, but at times I wanted to know more about him. In the end, this is about finding Tyler and uncovering his motives and as I mentioned, the set up works. I really liked how Cupp shows us how much Cindy has grown. At the end, she’s no longer this spoiled rich girl and when she realizes her father’s true business dealings, she’s conflicted on what to do. I’m not saying what she decides, but it is definitely in keeping with her personality. I’m not surprised at how Jasper and Darlene turn out. I admit feeling sorry for Darlene at times, but it’s apparent she likes to be miserable; she and Jasper are made for each other.

There are a lot of hidden agendas in Malicious Masquerade and Cupp does a terrific job keeping the reader on the edge of their seat. The plot was well executed with a few minor hiccups (explained further down), but he slowly feeds you information. Based on the clues we’re given it’s up to us to decipher them. I was thrown off course a few times, but felt vindicated in the end when it all came together. I still feel as if I had no idea what to expect and I love when writers do that. Now in terms of the secrets, wow-the business aspect of Jasper’s dealings was mindboggling. We’re told Tyler stole several millions from Jasper, but no one is sure how because Jasper and his business partner, have an intricate security system. The pieces come together at the end and everything is well placed.

I debated with the rating and it would have been solid five had a few things been cleared up. There’s an incident involving Carter’s house and it’s assumed Jasper had something to do with it, but the more I think about it, the more I’m convinced Tyler was behind it. If it was Tyler, it’s never expanded on despite the fact one of Jasper’s men is found murdered down the street from Carter’s house. There’s also the issue with several listening devices found in Carter’s office. It is assumed Jasper planted them and I most certainly can believe it, but still I can’t let go of the possibility of Tyler having something to do with it and him wanting to know how close Carter was to finding him.

The bottom line is Malicious Masquerade is a highly enjoyable read. I’m looking forward to more of Alan Cupp’s work.

Book Review: Dara England’s Death on Dartmoor

16281112Title: Death on Dartmoor
Author: Dara England
Genre: Mystery / Historical
Series: Yes / Book 1
Rating: 5 out of 5
My Copy: Complimentary copy via LibraryThing’s Member Giveaway

When American Heiress, Millicent Wright, travels to Devonshire, England to become better acquainted with Sir Oliver Longbourne, she has no idea she’ll be the heroine at the center of her own gothic novel. Her mother, on the other hand, wants Millicent married and who better than an English titled husband? Millicent is reluctant because she knows there’s only one reason why Longbourne would want to marry her: she’s an heiress and it’s apparent he needs the money. In the late 19th century, cash strapped English aristocrats married American heiresses, who were part of the nouveau riche, in exchange for a title that would earn them a place in high society. Millicent is aware of Longbourne’s interest as well as everyone present at Buckfast Hall, Longbourne’s estate. When Longbourne is murdered in front of his guests, everyone becomes suspect. Will Millicent unmask the culprit before another victim is claimed?

Dara England’s Death on Dartmoor has a gothic feel to it in terms of plot and language. Readers familiar with the gothic novel will be familiar with the set up. The writing is polished and the language is appropriate for the time period. It doesn’t sound too modern and it was just a delight to read. Characters are relatable and flawed. In terms of a suspect, we’re introduced to Amelia Shepherd, the daughter of a local physician and neighbor to Longbourne; she was once a prospective bride to Longbourne. Millicent begins to suspect Amelia, after all people have been known to commit murder for being jilted. Along with the murder, Millicent has to deal with the Longbourne curse. Several events point to the family being cursed and while Millicent doesn’t exactly believe in it, she has a hard time explaining certain events.

As far as the mystery goes, the clues are fairly easy to pick up on, but nevertheless it was an intriguing read. The reasons for key events are thoroughly explained and one can’t help but feel heartbroken at not being to help. Although we do have a detective assigned to the house, it’s Millicent who makes up her mind to help solve the murder. At one point she tells Lockwood, she’s read gothic novels and knows how investigations are conducted. He’s reluctant to have her assistance, but she goes out to prove him wrong. Unfortunately, her investigation doesn’t go as planned, but nevertheless, Lockwood has to agree she’s an important asset to the investigation. There was one instance, though, I wish she had spoken with Lockwood regarding an incident involving Longbourne’s grandmother. I understand why it was set up the way it was, but I can’t help but wonder what Lockwood’s reaction would have been, had he been privy to this piece of information.

There’s a hint of romance between Millicent and Lockwood. I’m hoping they’ll wind up together. We’ll just have to wait and see if her mother manages to successfully bring up a titled gentleman up to scratch. Although I can imagine Mrs. Wright having a fit of the vapors at the thought of her daughter marrying a detective!

Death on Dartmoor is a delightful read. If you have a few hours to spare and are fan of gothic mysteries, I highly recommend picking this up. I’m looking forward to reading more of England’s work.

Book Review: Kat Rosenfield’s Amelia Anne is Dead & Gone

11737266Title: Amelia Anne is Dead and Gone
Author: Kat Rosenfield
Genre: Mystery / YA
Series: No
Rating: 3 out of 5
My Copy: Purchased

Those of us who grew up in a small town can relate to the feeling of watching your peers leave full of hope and then returning, finding themselves trapped with no way out. On the night of her high school graduation, Becca Williams is dumped by her boyfriend James. She doesn’t know while she was left heartbroken, another woman, Amelia Ann Richardson, took her last breath. In many ways Becca fears being trapped in Bridgeton and in the end Amelia Anne is forever stuck there.

As far as character development goes, there’s not much there. I learned more about Amelia Anne from herself than those around her. In terms of our main character, Becca, I could relate to her and the dread of knowing she might never leave the town grew up in, but who exactly is she? She’s really bland and I found it hard to like her. When we’re told by other characters she’s stuck up, show me. Then we have her boyfriend, James and it’s pretty apparent her parents disapprove of him because he’s a dropout. He harbors a secret that is later revealed and I have to wonder about his personality. What drew Becca to him? Rosenfield also missed an opportunity to expand on Becca’s father as a character. We’re told he’s the town judge and in a murder investigation he’s kept abreast regarding the status. He’s virtually nonexistent and provides a few details that Becca takes away from, but overall there’s much there. I think back to the rest of the supporting cast and walk away with the same feeling. There’s so much that could have been expanded on, but wasn’t. I wonder for the most part if it’s because Rosenfield was trying to remain mysterious by not giving us in-depth characters.

A few readers have mentioned difficulty in the narration with alternating point of views. I found no problem with the set up and in many ways we needed the differing narratives. This also isn’t your typical mystery with a running thread and trying to figure out the events that lead to Amelia Anne’s death. Instead Rosenfield utilizes alternating POVs from First to Third to take us on the journey based in the future that parallels with the events in the past. We’re also presented with three suspects early on and it is pretty easy to narrow it down to one. At times I really wanted ____ to be the murder then realized I didn’t, because what would that mean for Becca? I then decided if ___ really was the murder, then Becca had the excuse to leave without looking back. I’ll keep tight-lipped regarding the ending, but it was fairly obvious early on who the suspect was. For me this isn’t the typical formula followed by most mystery writers, but it works.

Despite a few flaws there’s no mistaking Rosenfield’s beautiful writing. It’s evocative and haunting. Several times I found myself just rereading sentences because of the prose.

Becca describes people coming back to town and the inability to leave, “I’d seen it happen, how hard it was to get out. Every year, one or two kids would visit from college for a long October weekend and simply never leave. They came home, cocooned themselves in the familiar radius of the town limits, and never broke free again. Years later, you’d see them working in the kitchen at the pizza place, or sitting at the bar in the East Bank Tavern. Shoulders hunched, jaw set, skin slack. And in the waning light of their eyes, the barest sensation that once upon a time, they been somewhere else… or maybe it was only a dream.”

On the discovery of Amelia Anne’s body, “She was dry, dry inside like a ten-thousand-year-old tomb, with the last of her life barely dampening the dirt underneath.”

Finally, describing how plans are put to a stop by outside forces, “That girl, dead and gone, her spirit trapped forever just inside town limits—she’d come from someplace, was going somewhere. Until destiny had stepped into the road in front of her, stopped her forward motion, drawn a killing claw against the white, fluttering swell of her future. Whispering, ‘Oh no, you don’t.’

When you made plans, the saboteurs came out to play.”

I had a difficult time deciding what I should rate Amelia Anne is Dead and Gone. In my eyes, it’s a 3; meaning it’s good and not quite up to 4. Ultimately what makes it a 3 is the character development and the timeline. We start off at Becca’s graduation then all of sudden we are in July and at the end of August with no real sense of time passing or being told. Furthermore, the author in several places mentions a past event occurring in the town and never finishes what she’s saying. Later she picks up right where she left off, but never mentions she’s talking about the past event and it’s up to the reader to recognize it’s the past she’s discussing. I also have a slight problem with the ending (I still have questions surrounding a few key pieces) and it all seemed rushed.

Overall Kat Rosenfield’s Amelia Anne is Dead and Gone is a strong debut and she has a bright future ahead of her. I, for one, can’t wait to see her future work.

Book Review: Mark Capell’s Vows to Kill

5515188Title: Vows to Kill
Author: Mark Capell
Genre: Mystery / Crime
Series: No
Rating: 4 out of 5
My Copy: Complimentary copy via LibraryThing’s Member Giveaway

When Detective Inspector Lee Eyre receives an email threatening to kill him on his wedding day, he is on the hunt to find the culprit. At first he believes it might an interoffice joke, but then he quickly realizes if it’s not a joke, who sent it? Should he tell his wife-to-be, Lucy, or keep quiet as he investigates?

There’s one question we, as readers, will find ourselves asking: Is Lee Eyre guilty? There’s mention of an incident gone wrong and Eyre’s inability to move on from it. Mark Capell does an excellent job going over the details of “Southampton” (the place where the incident occurs). If Eyre is guilty, what is he guilty of? What I really enjoyed is how Capell reveals bits of information and it’s up to the readers to try to decipher and put all the pieces together. Some incidents may make no sense as well as the actions by some individuals; nevertheless, these are clues regarding Eyre’s past. There were a few moments I wanted to knock some sense into him and ask him to look at the big picture. Eyre was a bit too trusting in some aspects, especially with regards to Tim Bullard, the Chief Inspector, and Ozzy Welford, a hardened gangster.

Characters are fully developed and you’ll find yourself wanting to shake some sense into a few of them, particularly Lucy. I can forgive Lucy in her attempt to befriend Eyre’s ex-wife. In one key scene, Lucy’s sister, Vicky, talks to her regarding her actions and a little light is shed on Lucy’s past and you can’t help but feel sorry for her. You’re left heartbroken for Molly and wanting to know more about her role regarding Eyre’s life. What would drive Molly to the extreme and how does Ozzy fit into the picture? Then of course you have Eyre’s ex-wife, Kat, who is described as crazy and a bit obsessive with Eyre. Why did their marriage end and why is Eyre so intent on keeping his past a secret? If you’re the type who is bothered by more than one narrative, the chapter divisions may annoy you. However; all narratives in Vows are intertwined and serve a purpose. At no point did I find myself pulled away from a particular point of view even as it switched.

Capell has a done a brilliant job laying the foundation of this intricate story. By the time I reached the final chapters of Vows, I thought I had everything figured out, however; I was wrong! Mark Capell delivers a solid satisfying conclusion that I wasn’t expecting and I, for one, can’t wait to go through his backlist and look forward to reading more of his work.

Vows will have you asking, what would you do for love?

Book Review: Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl

11162684-largeTitle: Gone Girl
Author: Gillian Flynn
Genre: Mystery / Thriller
Series: No
Rating: 4 out of 5
My Copy: Purchased

Gone Girl has been sitting in my to be read pile for awhile now and even though I’m late to the party, I have finally arrived. I’ve never read Gillian Flynn before and even though I’ve seen her books around, nothing really prompted me to read anything of hers before. I kept seeing people rave about her latest and I finally decided to see for myself. I can’t believe I waited this long.

What I can say about Gone Girl without spoiling it? Nick Dunne isn’t going to win the husband of the year award and when his wife, Amy, goes missing on the day of their fifth anniversary, questions soon arise about his true character. Nick himself is hiding a few secrets and he maintains his innocence regarding his role in his wife’s disappearance. If he didn’t do it, who did? And the big question is, where is Amy? This is one of those mysteries where you think you have it all figured out and then Flynn comes and pulls the rug from under you. It’s hard to sympathize with one particular character. Most readers might be Team Nick or Team Amy or perhaps Team Neither. I admit I was bored out of mind about 14% in, but once I hit 25% things picked up for me. If you’re the type who likes straight one-person narrative, you might find Gone Girl annoying because you do get both narratives from Nick and Amy, however; Flynn does a superb job breaking down narrative chapters and each chapter goes hand in hand.

Ultimately what I enjoyed about Flynn’s novel is how right she is about marriage and people. Now I’m not married and can’t comment on the struggles faced by countless of married couples nor can I assume every marriage is like that of my parents. I know it’s not because my parents NEVER fight. I take it back, there was only one argument in their 33 years of marriage that I can recall like it was yesterday and it was over something silly and for a thirteen year old to witness that, I thought for sure this would mean divorce. Every marriage has their secrets and while Nick and Amy may seem like the perfect couple, they really aren’t. Add to the mix people’s own personalities and history and you get something scary. She’s not the first to bring up hidden facets of people; hey if we were all truthful you wouldn’t see shows like, Who the Bleep Did I Marry? on Investigation Discovery. Truth is we all present different fronts and we’ve been doing so since we were children. Nick and Amy are no different from you and me, and yet when we read their story we can’t help but wonder “why?” and “what went wrong?” Flynn presents us with those issues and how many of us can see our friends (or maybe ourselves) in her descriptions of married couples or the way our life is now?

One particular quote I really like sums up the people I do know who are in this type of relationship, “Don’t land me in one of those relationships where we’re always pecking at each other, disguising insults as jokes, rolling our eyes and ‘playfully’ scrapping in front of our friends, hoping to lure them to our side of an argument they could not care less about. Those awful if only relationships: This marriage would be great if only… and you sense the if only list is a lot longer than either of them realizes.” Now don’t think because you’re single, Flynn doesn’t touch that subject. She does and in a way that makes us all say, “oh yes.” How many of us have molded ourselves to be liked by a potential mate? Perhaps lied a little about liking something or being interested in a hobby you have no idea about? As Flynn points out, “Being the Cool Girl means I am a hot, brilliant, funny woman who adores football, poker, dirty jokes, and burping, who plays video games, drinks cheap beer, loves threesomes and anal sex, and jams hot dogs and hamburgers into her mouth like she’s hosting the world’s biggest culinary gang bang while somehow maintaining a size 2, because Cool Girls are above all hot. Hot and understanding. Cool Girls never get angry; they only smile in a chagrined, loving manner and let their men do whatever they want. Go ahead, shit on me, I don’t mind, I’m the Cool Girl. Men actually think this girl exists. Maybe they’re fooled because so many women are willing to pretend to be this girl. For a long time Cool Girl offended me. I used to see men — friends, coworkers, strangers — giddy over these awful pretender women, and I’d want to sit these men down and calmly say: You are not dating a woman, you are dating a woman who has watched too many movies written by socially awkward men who’d like to believe that this kind of woman exists and might kiss them.” In the end, “Can you imagine, finally showing your true self to your spouse, your soul mate, and having him not like you?” Isn’t that what we worry about? That those who truly love us, don’t see US and if they knew who we really were, they’d hate us?

I debated with the rating and I would have given it a solid five if a lot of my questions were answered and they weren’t; I know an author can’t foresee all the questions a reader has in order to address them because we all are different and what’s important to me isn’t to you. I also understand why some people have problems with the ending, but I, myself, loved it. The great thing about reading is we, the readers, can imagine what happened afterwards. For example, I like to imagine the perfect ending for Gone With the Wind, and I like to think Scarlett learned to live without Rhett and when he did come back (because let’s face it in my ending HE does) she’s ready to love as a grown woman should be able to after he grovels for a bit (okay a long while). As for Gone Girl and the ending, it’s not perfect, but it is the right ending for these two characters. Nick finally grows up and realizes that he has to be open with Amy or as much as he can put out there and as for Amy, she has to live with knowing others know her secret. What’s worse, living with the possibility of “this could be it,” and not knowing when the end is near or making the best of the situation at hand?

In a perfect world, the villain gets his due and everyone lives happily ever after, but in the real world, sometimes bad people do go free and live among us. That’s what Flynn reminds us.

Book Review: Charles Finch’s A Death in the Small Hours

13538931Title: A Death in the Small Hours
Author: Charles Finch
Genre: Mystery / Detective
Series: Yes / Book 6 of 6 (as of review posting)
Rating: 5 out 5
My Copy: Purchased

A Death in the Small Hours is the sixth installment of the Lenox mystery series and his best one to date. If you’ve never read the Lenox series, don’t fret as each of his books can be read as a standalone. Although Finch isn’t one of those writers to drown you in a character’s back story, I do believe a reader new to the series will fail to appreciate the personal history of his characters. As the series progresses, the Lenox characters grow and I’m afraid a reader will miss key elements that would help further understand a character’s way of thinking or reaction to a situation. Therefore, I do recommend you start at the beginning with A Beautiful Blue Death and work your down the list, but it’s not necessary.

Set in 1874, A Death in the Small Hours picks up right where we left off at the end of A Burial at Sea. Our favorite Victorian gentleman, Charles Lenox, finds himself contemplating life. He has everything a man should want for: a loving wife, a daughter, and is a highly respected member of the House of Commons. There’s just one small problem…he misses being a detective. At times Lenox does question if he made the right decision leaving his now defunct career as a detective for that of a life in Parliament. Lenox loves politics, “but for all his pleasure in the long debates and the hushed hallway conversations of his present life, Lenox had never quite felt as viscerally engaged with Parliament as he had with crime.” Meeting with his protégé, Lord John Dallington, of course doesn’t help shake off the feeling that perhaps he made the wrong decision. In key scenes like these your heart aches for Lenox.

When the opportunity comes to deliver the opening speech, Lenox decides to spend a few quiet weeks in Somerset to work on his speech. He seeks refugee at Everley, his Uncle Frederick Ponsonby’s house in Plumbley. Uncle Freddie takes the opportunity to request Lenox’s assistance in a serious matter. Plumbley has been plagued by a series of vandalisms where baffling clues have left behind; that of a sketch of a man and a black dog along with roman numerals painted on a church door. The question: who is behind this and why. Lenox gets the chance to dip his toes in detection and when a murder occurs he knows time is of the essence. The mystery itself is satisfying and Finch isn’t one to make it easy on a reader regarding the suspect list. Be prepared to admit defeat.

For readers not familiar with nineteenth century England, Finch provides detailed descriptions in both political, social, and industrial. While Finch gives us history lessons, he does it in a subtle format. For example, Lenox arrives in London from Somerset and immediately stepping off the train platform his eyes sting from the London fog. He goes on to explain, “It was a worsening problem; on one day earlier that month the mixture of yellow fog and coal smoke—what residents called the London Particular—had been so bad that the police ordered the streetlamps lit during the daylight hours, not much after noon.” Coal was the primary fuel used in the nineteenth century as a source of heat and power. As the coal soot drifted down it mixed with smoke and fog causing a London Particular. The death of cattle mentioned in A Death in the Small Hours due to this London Particular did indeed happen. On December 10, 1873, cattle being exhibited at the Great Show at Islington suffocated; the smoke was so thick it was impossible to see across the street and many reported a choking sensation was felt while breathing. Finch also makes you contemplate little tidbits he weaves within the narrative. For example, “A funny quirk of the language, as the Times had pointed out recently, that in Britain the Royal Mail delivered the post, while in the United States, the Postal Service delivered the mail.” When I mentioned this particular piece to a friend her response was, “(long pause) I think my brain just exploded.” We spent the next several minutes discussing this in great detail.

If I could take a moment to discuss Finch’s writing; I’m the first to admit that I love his writing. A Death in the Small Hours is his best to date; it’s beautifully written and evocative. Finch’s narrative of Lenox with Sophia left me spellbound. Lenox describing his visit in 1854 to Sophia had me smiling with tears in my eyes. In every Lenox and Sophia scene, you could feel the love Lenox has for his daughter. When I think about which scenes stand out, I’d say the cricket scene is at the top of the list along with the advice in speech writing, however; there were three particular scenes that had me in tears. I worry about spoilers and will keep quiet regarding what they are; however, I will say this, as I write this the emotions associated with those three scenes still leave me a bit emotional.

While A Death in the Small Hours does lag on occasion, it is by no means a snore. Some have questioned the need for the cricket scene, but upon reflection it is integral to the plot. Fans of the series may criticize the short appearance of several beloved characters. Dallington plays a vital, but small role; Graham and McConnell’s appearance was short and I longed for more. We are introduced to two new characters and I cannot wait to see their appearance in future books. Finch does a superb job with the narrative and you’ll walk away contemplating life and one’s decisions. The only outcome of course is to move forward and anticipate the future.