Thursday, December 28, 2017

Candy Canes, Corpses and the Gothic Haunt by Rachael Stapleton

So, this is the second book in the Haunted House Flippers, Inc. series by Rachael Stapleton, and much like the first, a fun, comfortable read. At present, the author has 3 cozy mystery series set in the town of Bohemian Lake all focusing on different characters featured in supporting roles in the other novels. It is almost like living in Bohemian Lake and keeping up with your neighbors.

In this series, the stories are set around holidays, this one being Christmas. Juniper Palmer and her business partner, Jack Young, have decided to turn their restored Victorian mansion that they initially purchased in Corsets, Corpses, and the Deadly Haunt (Book 1) into an inn and taproom, now “The Gothic Haunt.” As their grand opening set for New Year’s approaches, strange problems in the home keep popping up: cut exhaust lines, missing vacuum breakers, stolen Christmas gifts, and then Junie finds Head Chef and friend, Feliz Merlot, dead in the wine cellar. Although the coroner says his death was an accident, Junie is sure Feliz was murdered. Right before he died, Feliz had asked Junie to come to the inn because he had discovered who was behind all the problems. On her arrival, she had found food cooking on the stove – something Feliz would never have left unattended.

The story continues with Junie trying to discover the truth behind Feliz’s death, get the mansion ready for its upcoming grand opening, and the growing romantic relationship between her and Jack. We are treated to the inclusion of Junie’s friends – Pike Hart, Penny Trubble, Eve Banter, and many other familiar faces. Also making an appearance from the earlier book is Victoria, the ghost of the murdered bride of the home’s original owner. This book is recommended for the cozy mystery reader that also enjoys a bit of the “woo woo” in the mix.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Murder on the Movie Set (Pet Portraits Mystery #3) by Sandi Scott

While arranging for her next pet portrait commission, Georgie Kaye wins tickets from a radio station to go on location for a day with a movie being shot in the area. The movie stars Dustin Stetson, her twin sister’s secret crush, so Georgie takes Aleta along as her “plus one.” To their disappointment, Dustin is not shooting that day, but the sisters are delighted by the offerings on the Craft Services tables.

On location that day is the film’s difficult producer, Jason Hobbs, who stresses out everyone with his micromanaging. He screams at the caterer, demands the best lines of the ingĂ©nue be given to a minor male character, and continually orders major changes in the director’s plans and holding up production.

Breaking for lunch is a relief for everyone except the producer, from all appearances a young, healthy man, who suddenly has a fatal heart attack. But from all the gossip on set, Georgie is convinced Hobbs’ death is not from natural causes. When the lead detective investigating the death, her ex-husband, Stan Toon, decides there is no need to look into the death any further, Georgie finagles another couple of days on the set to investigate on her own.

The rapport between the two sisters and with Stan continues to develop and is vastly entertaining. The plot is straightforward, yet satisfying. The Chicago-area settings are fun and familiar. Although the series features pets, they are not the sole focus of the stories – it’s more about the people, their relationships, and the crime-solving. This story is highly recommended for cozy mystery readers.

I voluntarily reviewed an Advance Reader Copy of this book.

Friday, December 08, 2017

Lullaby to a Jitterbug (Avon Calling!, #10) by Hayley Camille

At the end of the previous episode, we were left dangling on one heck of a cliffhanger. Donny and his mugs had the drop on Betty and were holding a gun to poor George’s head. Their daughter, Nancy, was racing little Georgie to the nearest hospital after he’d accidentally inhaled heroin. (He’d thought he was smelling sugar.) When Georgie had reacted to the drug she picked him up and ran for it, discovering hidden strengths and abilities she didn’t know she possessed: she was stronger and faster than any girl is supposed to be.

Betty, too, reaches deep within herself to take her battle with Donny and his goons to another level and defeats them with the sudden arrival and assistance of Detective Jacob Lawrence. Jacob tells Betty that he’d gone to her home before coming to her aid at St. Augustine’s Home for Unwanted Boys, and that her front door was open, the kitchen a mess, and the children nowhere to be found. He produces the jeweled jar that held the heroin. Betty reaches out with her mind and eventually connects with Nancy. She sees her thoughts and discovers what has happened. Betty comes clean with George at the hospital as they wait for Georgie to recover, and they spend the following weeks coming to terms with his new knowledge and understanding about Betty and Nancy.

Jacob though has uncovered a secret file at City Hall on Betty that shows the government is watching her and her associates (including himself, perhaps) and is trying to determine her possible agenda and usefulness in regards to the war effort.

With the exposure of Donny Pinzola and his affiliates, the focus of the story is swinging back to the war. Actual tidbits of history are woven into the narrative – war rationing, the draft. Also, the characters are becoming so well developed that one feels like they know exactly who they are dealing with and what they might be capable of. In this 10th entry in the ongoing Avon Calling! series, we get even more background information on Betty (Susie) and her life before George. I recommend this series, in order, it is episodic in nature, to those that like action and adventure set during the war, and look forward to the next installment.

I voluntarily reviewed an Advance Reader copy of this book.

Serenade to a Savage (Avon Calling!, #9) by Hayley Camille

Holy moly! Episode 9 of the Avon Calling! series is action-packed and TENSE! We left our characters at the high-profile Charity Ball in the midst of a couple of showdowns: one among the two couples - Betty & George and Jacob & Adina, and the other between Betty and Donny Pinzolo. The couples are at odds with each other due to the suspicions of the “innocent” partners – George and Adina – about the true nature of the relationship between Betty and Jacob. Both couples leave the charity event out of sorts and Jacob and Adina seem to have split up completely. Time passes but George’s unease doesn’t, and he decides to follow Betty when she is lured out of safety in an attempt to save one of her Avon customers from Donny’s goons. She and George are both captured and taken to Donny’s headquarters at the St. Augustine’s School for Unwanted Boys for a final showdown with Uncle Donny.

Again, the author maintains the awesome “look & feel” of the 1940s while creating a supernatural suspense story. All the characters are becoming so well developed that one feels like they know exactly who they are dealing with and what they might be capable of. There are still mysteries and secrets lurking in the background and we are left with more than one cliffhanger so, hopefully, Episode 10 is not far off!

Guns and Glitterati (Avon Calling!, #8) by Hayley Camille

Betty’s plans for taking down her evil uncle, Donny Pinzolo, are starting to come together as the St. Augustine’s Home for Unwanted Boys Charity Gala approaches. First, Betty removes Rex Hatfield, the biggest bookie in town and one of Donny Pinzolo’s most lucrative sources of cash from the scene.

In the meantime, we get a surprising look into the life of Adina Sonberg, Sergeant Lawrence’s love interest. It seems she and General Brandway have a “history” – one that meant heartache for Adina.

The night of the Charity Gala arrives and anyone who is anyone is in attendance. As the music and alcohol flow around them, Betty and Donny confront each other. All this time, Officer Parker is keeping a protective eye on the Jones’ family but he may be seeing more than anyone realizes. And he may have a hidden agenda himself.

The surprises keep coming! The flavor of the era established and nurtured by dialogue, fashion, and the settings is strong and delicious.

Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered (Avon Calling!, #7) by Hayley Camille

Episode 7 in the Avon Calling! series lets the reader in on the romance that was budding between Betty (Susie Poletti) and Jacob Lawrence when they were just kids and before life took a turn for the tragic. Jacob is not welcome at the Poletti house so the two have been meeting on the sly. Jacob is teaching Susie everything he learns at his boxing and karate classes. Susie has developed super strength and is super fast along with her ability to hear thoughts – a legacy from her mother’s side of the family.

As an adult, Betty uses her speed and strength to whip through her housekeeping. She’s spied on by Felix, one of Pinzolo’s goons, and when she discovers him she chases him down and they come to an uneasy standoff. She can’t take him out right there in front of her home with the neighbors looking on and he can’t hurt her for the same reason. He knows she’s got some unnatural skills and she knows about Tilly, his “secret” girlfriend and love of his life whom he’s trying to keep under wraps and out of sight of the evil, Pinzolo.

And then Jacob Lawrence shows up on her doorstep. Surprise! She’s been waiting for him to track her down and help her make things right.

Each episode in the series advances the plot and gets us closer and closer to a show-off between Betty/Susie and her uncle, Donny. The author seems to have some nice surprises tucked along the way.

St. Augustine’s School for Unwanted Boys (Avon Calling!, #6) by Hayley Camille

The mob boys have to tell Donny Pinzolo that his nephew, Vince, and his gunzels have been killed at Kitty’s Kat House. Donny blames the messenger, Felix, for not having yet identified the perpetrator before this last hit.

Back at the Jones’ house, Nancy discovers her mother sewing money inside her mattress and questions her. Betty is able to offer an explanation that serves for the moment but she’s concerned that her smart and observant daughter is growing up so soon.

Betty leaves an Avon meeting at the home of a senior Avon lady and just misses running headlong into her old friend and NYPD Police Sergeant, Jacob Lawrence, as he slowly makes his way through a list of all Avon representatives in the city. He’s tracking down the origin of the Avon Calling! card found at the scenes of the recent mob slayings.

George and Betty meet with the mayor and Donny Pinzolo at St. Augustine’s to discuss the upcoming charity event. Betty ducks out of the meeting in order to check out the goings on in the basement with the mob, the orphans, and the stolen drugs. While Betty’s out of the room, George writes down his contact information for Donny on the back of one of Betty’s Avon Calling! cards that he rummages from her handbag. When the body of a dead gang member is found right after George and Betty leave the school, suspicion falls squarely on Betty, the only person that left the meeting, and now Donny has her home address.

The pressure is mounting and I kept wondering if George or one of the children was going to find out too much about Betty’s clandestine activities. With Jacob Lawrence on the right track to finding her and Donnie Pinzolo, himself, suspicious, Betty is starting to get into a very tight situation. This is the 6th episode of Camille's Avon Calling! historical suspense story. Due the episodic nature of the series, they should be read in order to understand what's going on and for maximum enjoyment.

In For a Dime, In For a Dollar (Avon Calling!, #5) by Hayley Camille

Betty confronts her old acquaintances and coworkers from her Uncle Frank’s mob in the offices of Kitty’s Kat House. Quite a struggle ensues, these boys don’t go down easy, but Betty eventually prevails and is able to claim all the cash in the safe and retrieve the stolen drugs that were meant for the troops on the battlefield. Once again, she stashes the drugs in a location that the police will be able to find them and get them back on their way to the war front. The back story of the old homeless guy in the park is revealed in this episode and just adds to the nastiness that is Donald Pinzolo.

This foray into the night has taken quite a bit of time for Betty Jones and now she must face the music at home. Little does she know that her husband, George, knows that she didn’t go where she told him she was headed, and these recent inconsistencies are starting to eat away at him.

Sergeant Jacob Lawrence is brought in on the case and the Mayor, himself, shows up on the crime scene at the bordello to threaten, cajole, and then bribe the sergeant into closing this case as quickly as possible.

The author is slowly building our knowledge of all the characters involved while moving the story forward. The era itself is one of those characters as is the setting. Betty has some skills but we’re starting to see that she’s not superhuman. This is the 5th episode in the Avon Calling! series. So far, each episode has been entertaining and they need to be read in order. Very enjoyable reading!

Kitty's Kat House (Avon Calling!, #4) by Hayley Camille

St. Augustine’s Home for Unwanted Boys proves to be a goldmine of unpaid labor to the local mob and mob bosses, Vince and Felix. When Betty runs across the new apprentices with the mobsters as she attempts to foil a robbery of a military truck convoy, she’s stymied. Taking out adult men is one thing but doing it when the boys could see and identify her is another. Finding another avenue to her goal leads her to Kitty’s Kat House later that night.

The author continues the Avon Calling series in this 4th episode, Kitty’s Kat House, and we not only get the reason behind Donald Pinzolo’s interest in the orphanage (besides good PR), but get another look at what makes Betty Jones tick. Her realization that the orphans were being used to further the mob’s aim of stealing the drugs meant for soldiers on the battlefield gives Betty a flashback to her own youth when she was forced to run drugs for her uncle. She watches helplessly as the convoy’s military escort is gunned down in the street.

The author continues to maintain the 1940s flavor with musical mentions, fashion, and language. Every now and then a term not normally used in this country slips in and you may realize that the author is from Australia (i.e., lorry, wireless) but you still get the “look and feel” of the times.

Chocolate Cake and Sandwiches (Avon Calling!, #3) by Hayley Camille

In Episode 3 of Hayley Camille's Avon Calling! series, while Betty tries to assuage husband George’s concerns about her intense attention to her Avon business (which she uses as a cover to mask her real actions and get her out of the house alone), we’re reintroduced to her childhood friend, Jacob Lawrence, now a newly minted police sergeant in the NYPD. As the new guy in rank, Jacob has caught the cases of the “random” mob killings in town.

Meanwhile, mob boss Donald Pinzolo, Betty’s ultimate target, is making nice with the NYC mayor by publicly becoming the benefactor of the city’s St. Augustine’s School for Unwanted Boys. However, the hits on his boys and their operations, not to mention the loss of money and product, has caught his attention and he’s out for blood trying to find the perpetrator.

Once again, the 1940s atmosphere is both charming and attention-grabbing. The author has clearly put a lot of time, effort, and research into recreating the mood and setting, making it feel genuine. Mixed with the noir are the superhuman traits that Betty brings to the table. It’s a fun mix, and I can really recommend this series to those that like the era, a strong female lead, and a touch of the paranormal in their thrillers. They’re just fun! Start with Episode One though, they are episodes of an ongoing story.

A Dream That I Can Call My Own (Avon Calling!, #2) by Hayley Camille

Episode 2 in Hayley Camille’s Avon Calling series gives us another look into Betty Jones’ backstory. Her ability to hear the thoughts of others is a family trait that appears in all the women of her line. Her daughter, Nancy, approaching adolescence, is due to soon begin experiencing her own form of the trait.

Betty is also ready to make a move against her despicable Uncle Frank, a lesser mob boss in the local crime syndicate. Uncle Frank knew all about the abuse going on her home when Betty was a child and chose to do nothing about it.

In this episode, she and her beloved husband, George, are having a night out dancing at a nightclub. While George waits for her to return from the ladies’ room, Betty goes to the club office and confronts Frank and his men who are waiting to meet with the “man” that hijacked their stolen drug shipment. Uncle Frank finally recognizes her as his niece, Susie, but that does nothing to save him from her revenge.

The author really brings the era to life with descriptions of fashion, language, and character attitudes of the times. Betty’s husband is concerned about her involvement in her Avon business. He provides for the family. But her Avon Lady gig is her cover for what her real agenda is – one that is still just unfolding for the reader. I recommend this for readers that like a historical slant to their mystery, thriller, and action reading.

Saturday, December 02, 2017

Save Her Soul by Amanda J. Evans

Kate Ritter was out for revenge against the man and mob that raped and killed her younger sister. Drake Summerfield is the demon set on making sure she takes her vengeance and her soul is sent straight back to hell to be at his side for eternity. Little did he know, he was meant to be her salvation instead.

This scenario has been repeated for the past 500 years. A prophecy claims that Drake will be the one and only one that can save Kate’s soul from eternal damnation. He has always believed her soul was as dark as his, and has done whatever he could to lead her to kill during each and every reincarnation. But every new age, he is ripped from Hell by the guardians of light which includes her mother, Majeria, to find her soul and try to redeem her. Now, with the 500 years almost up, Drake has this last lifetime to fulfill the prophecy before they are both sent to Hell for good.

An interesting story with engaging characters, once I began reading Save Her Soul, I was hooked and didn’t want to put it down. Very enjoyable. Kate and Drake both are damaged souls. Their attraction is instantaneous and I was rooting for them to get back together throughout the story. The story of Kate getting her revenge is furthered and concluded by plausible means. She watches and follows and gets evidence against the villains through hard work and creativity – no paranormal, otherworldly assistance. But readers that enjoy the touch of the paranormal will enjoy this story as well.