The Refuge

The Refuge by Sue Henry

The Refuge (Maxie and Stretch, #3)

After nine months on the road, Maxie McNabb is ready for some R&R, Alaska-style, with her miniature dachshund, Stretch. But no sooner has the sixty-something RVer parked the Mini-Winnie than a pleading phone call sends her flying to Hawaii. Because Karen Bailey, hobbled by an accident, needs Maxie’s help packing up her house.After nine months on the road, Maxie McNabb is ready for some R&R, Alaska-style, with her miniature dachshund, Stretch. But no sooner has the sixty-something RVer parked the Mini-Winnie than a pleading phone call sends her flying to Hawaii. Because Karen Bailey, hobbled by an accident, needs Maxie’s help packing up her house.But within hours of Maxie’s arrival, a prowler tries to break in and someone sabotages the plumbing. And when she hears Karen whispering into the phone-don’t call here…I’ll call you when it’s safe, when she’s…-Maxie suspects that Karen is hiding something. Far from home and no longer behind the wheel, Maxie feels as though the ice is melting around her.

I initially discovered Sue Henry during the winter of 2011 when I picked up one of her Jessie Arnold mysteries.  Jessie Arnold is a dog sled musher who lives in Alaska; plan to hear more about this series in December when I am on an Alaska kick!  The Refuge is an adventure involving Henry’s other heroine, Maxie, whom I first met while reading the Jessie Arnold mystery, Dead North.  I was initially hesitant to jump into a Maxie and Stretch adventure because Maxie, a woman in her sixties who travels the country in an RV, is quite different from Jessie.  But, I was in the mood for a book based in Hawaii and The Refuge seemed to fit the bill.  I wasn’t disappointed, though I have to admit that this is not Henry’s best work.

The first half of the story find Maxie stuck on the Big Island helping an acquaintance pack up her home in Hawaii to make the move back to Alaska.  The beginning is rather tedious, as Maxie, and myself, can barely stand Karen.  The pages were filled with packing, as Susan berates Maxie while acting like a complete air-head.  I was surprised that Maxie even took the trip to Hawaii to help a woman she barely tolerated, and I was relieved when Karen was finally forced out of the story via a airplane bound for Alaska.  I have a difficult time with needy characters, and admit that I might have dropped The Refuge if I hadn’t been listening to an audio version.

I am glad I kept going because the action showed up in the second half of the novel.  Maxie, and her teenage runaway friend, travel the Big Island in a rented camper.  Forget the hints of intrigue in the first half, because now Maxie is plagued with a series of attacks, break-ins, and dangerous activity.  Yet, Maxie and her young companion continue to travel the island despite the continuous threats.  It never really feels like there is a mystery to solve, and honestly, The Refuge is actually a travel thriller.

The Refuge may not be Henry’s best piece, but it was still enjoyable.  It is definitely worth the read if you are looking for something light and summery.  Henry’s writing is engaging and her words took me back to my own travels around the Big Island.  I also enjoy Maxie’s relaxed personality, non-nonsense nature, and love of both books and culture.  It was fun driving the roads of Hawaii with her while stuck in rush hour traffic.

Check out all the books in Sue Henry’s two series and let me know what you think!

Lindsay

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Murder on Bamboo Lane

Murder on Bamboo Lane

by Naomi Hirahara

Murder on Bamboo Lane

Bike cop Ellie Rush dreams of becoming a homicide detective, but it’s still a shock when the first dead body she encounters on the job is that of a former college classmate.

At the behest of her Aunt Cheryl, the highest-ranking Asian-American officer in the LAPD (a source of pride for Ellie’s grandmother, but annoyance to her mom), Ellie becomes tangled in the investigation of the coed’s murder—with equal parts help and hindrance from her nosy best friend, her over-involved ex-boyfriend, a smoldering detective, and seemingly everyone else in her extended family…only to uncover secrets that a killer may go to any lengths to ensure stay hidden

I picked this book up while meandering through Barnes and Noble during a study break, and I was initially hooked by the cover art.  I was pleasantly surprised to discover that Murder on Bamboo Lane contained an intriguing mystery as I followed Bike Officer Ellie Rush’s investigation through the Southern California streets.

Ellie Rush is a strong, hardheaded character who is determined to follow the footsteps of her influential aunt and become a police investigator.  But she is stuck working as a bike cop until she identifies the body of a former classmate.  Ellie is drawn into an investigation that covers multiple socio-economic classes and reaches into another country.  Readers are left rooting for the stubborn Ellie as she struggles through opposition from friends, family, and suspects.

The story focuses on Ellie’s growth from an insecure post-graduate to a confident career focused woman.  So, at times her behavior can be rather frustrating.  I sympathized with the young woman who was struggling against the negativity expressed by both family and friends at her career decision, but it frustrated me that she continued to return to her ex-boyfriend who verbally abused her throughout the story.  I found myself yelling ‘NO, DON’T GO,’ at Ellie on multiple occasions, but I understand that the ex was needed to advance the story and their relationship is an essential aspect of the ‘who-dunnit’ finale.  Hirahara has developed a complex character with Ellie Rush; she is flawed and insecure but is still someone who fights to discover.  It is definitely worth sticking it out til the end because Ellie does grow into a strong appreciative character who eventually recognizes those willing to fight for her.

Side-note:  Be prepared to read Murder on Bamboo Lane with a thick skin if you are easily insulted by the whole ‘cops are pigs and only serve to oppress the masses’ mentality.  All of Ellie’s friends consider her a traitor for her career choice; a number of the villains are cops, or elected political officials.  The ‘cop hatred’ got old really quick, but I understand that I am quite sensitive to this opinion.  Hirahara utilizes this cultural difference to strengthen Ellie’s character; I am impressed that the young woman is fighting against such harsh social stigma!

This is a great cozy mystery that left me guessing til the very end!  Join Ellie on her bike ride to justice through the So-Cal Asian community.  I know that will be picking the next book up as soon as it is published because I can not wait to see what Ellie’s future holds!  Take the time to visit Naomi Hirahara’s website at www.naomihirahara.com and let me know what you think of Murder on Bamboo Lane or this review!

Lindsay

 

Murder with Peacocks

Murder With Peacocks 

by Donna Andrews

Murder With Peacocks (Meg Langslow, #1)

When Meg Langslow is roped into being a bridesmaid for the nuptials of her mother, her brother’s fiancee, and her own best friend, she is apprehensive. Getting the brides to choose their outfits and those of their bridesmaids (and not change their minds three days later), trying to capture the principals long enough to work out details, and even finding peacocks to strut around the garden during the ceremony – these are things Meg can handle. She can brush off the unfortunate oaf who is smitten with her, and take philosophically her disappointment when she learns that the only eligible man in her small Virginia town (and a delightful hunk he is) is of questionable sexual preference. But even Meg is taken aback when the unpleasant former sister-in-law of Meg’s soon-to-be stepfather disappears and is later found dead.

Lets start this review off with a disclaimer:  I am not a wedding person.  Period.

So you can understand how odd it is that I love a book whose plot works through THREE weddings.  I first read Murder with Peacocks while planning my own wedding, and it was the perfect escape from the stress that comes from a mixture of excitement surrounding the pending nuptials and the pain of pleasing all family members involved in the ordeal.  Meg Langslow and I were struggling through similar situations and her humor throughout the story kept me grounded and laughing for hours.

Meg’s unique family members are what makes this book so enjoyable.  I find myself waiting for them all to march through my front door with food and ice tea with each turn of the page.  Andrews is a master at taking the faults of each character and making them enduring traits.  Readers feel like they are reconnecting with old friends when they open the next book in the series.  I am still giggling at Dr. Langslow, Meg’s father, staking out Jake from a dogwood tree; I am exasperated at the missed ‘love connections’ experienced by Michael, the hunky dress store manager.  I am left cheering for Meg, who is somewhat of a kindred spirit, as she fights off the advances of the burly Barry and struggles to wrangle the flighty brides!  Add a few dead bodies and sabotage to the mix and it makes for an interesting summer for our heroine.

Just a few things to keep in mind:  There are a lot of details about weddings, so be prepared to read about cakes, flowers, and dresses.  Luckily, Andrews’ writing is far from tedious for readers.  There is not a lot of detecting; Murder with Peacocks is less like a detective story and more a tale of life with a few dead bodies thrown in.   The end ‘who-dunnit’ announcement may seem too abrupt for some people, but those who focus on the small details while reading will realize the characters were investigating throughout the entire story.  At times the family’s craziness can seem unbelievable for some; I suggest reading something else if this is an issue for you.  The Langslow family personalities are what makes these novels so entertaining and they only get wilder as the series progresses!

I picked Murder with Peacocks up for a second time specifically for this review, and it was just as enjoyable as the first time!  I am actually sending a copy of the book to my mom for her birthday; she requested a book that would leave her laughing!  Expect to see more Meg Langslow books on Sand Between the Pages!   Take the time to visit Donna Andrews website at http://www.donnaandrews.com and let me know what you think of Murder with Peacocks or this review!

Lindsay

Guidebook to Murder

Guidebook to Murder

by Lynn Cahoon

21869865

In the gentle coastal town of South Cove, California, all Jill Gardner wants is to keep her store–Coffee, Books, and More–open and running. So why is she caught up in the business of murder?

When Jill’s elderly friend, Miss Emily, calls in a fit of pique, she already knows the city council is trying to force Emily to sell her dilapidated old house. But Emily’s gumption goes for naught when she dies unexpectedly and leaves the house to Jill–along with all of her problems. . .and her enemies. Convinced her friend was murdered, Jill is finding the list of suspects longer than the list of repairs needed on the house. But Jill is determined to uncover the culprit–especially if it gets her closer to South Cove’s finest, Detective Greg King. Problem is, the killer knows she’s on the case–and is determined to close the book on Jill permanently. . 

Lynn Cahoon takes a break from her normal romance novels to delve into the world of cozy mysteries.  I have to admit that I was a tad hesitant at first, as romance is not a normal choice for me and I was worried that this would be a romance novel with just a touch of mystery.  I picked up the book because of the main character’s store, Coffee, Books,  and More, and I am glad I stuck with it, as Cahoon’s unique mystery left me guessing until the last page.

Warning:  Now I hate starting book reviews with negative comments, but I felt it best to get this out in the open as quickly as possible.  Guidebook for Murder is not for those whose blood pressure rises upon finding grammatical errors or discovering loose ends.  The story reads like a draft, as if it was published before the final edit that smooths out the last bits of clinging roughness.  Inconsistencies forced my attention away from the mystery, and at times the writing was a tad cliche.  At least one of the men in South Cove should have been less than model perfect and Cahoon never really describes Jill’s physical attributes besides her being of a curvier frame.  Hair color and length would have been good to know.  Small issues such as these littered the pages and I spent most of my time reading Guidebook to Murder wondering if it was self published.  I was quite surprised to discover that it wasn’t.

I definitely recommend this book for those strong enough to handle the coarseness because, despite what I said above, Cahoon has developed relatable characters within a twisted plot that keeps you yearning for more.  I couldn’t put the book down because I was invested in the characters.  I wanted Jill to keep the house and her business because she is a sweet and hardworking woman.  Greg King is charming, not because of his good looks,  but because he just assumes that Jill knows that they are dating because he spends all of his free time protecting her.  Mrs. Emily is a fiery woman who’s antics, such as declaring she be buried with no jewelry to prevent grave robing, kept me laughing long after she passed on.  The list of these characters just goes on and on, and I will be picking up the second book, Mission to Murder, at the end of July 2014.

Readers are swept along with Jill on her journey to discover the murderer of her dear friend, Ms. Emily, and join in her fight to save the home that she has inherited.  Cahoon’s descriptions of  Ms. Emily’s home restorations made me want to pull out my paint and brushes and get to work touching up my own house.  I would also love to spend my days at Coffee, Books, and More; South Cove here I come!

Guidebook for Murder is the perfect fun read for you if you enjoy murder, house restoration, buried treasure, books, and amazing coffee.  Enjoy!

Lindsay

Buried in a Book

So May is Mystery Month!  I decided to start with a book I recently discovered while perusing the bookstore shelves in an attempt to avoid studying.  I was hooked by the title as I have spent most of my life with my nose buried in a book and I was excited to discover the book involved mystery at a literary agency.

Buried in a Book

by Lucy Arlington

Buried in a Book (A Novel Idea Mystery #1)

After receiving her first pink slip at the age of forty-five, former newspaper journalist Lila Wilkins is desperate for work, even if it means taking a pay cut. After combing through the classifieds, Lila accepts an internship at A Novel Idea, a thriving literary agency in the utopian town of Inspiration Valley, North Carolina.

Lila can’t imagine anything better than being paid to read, but with a crew of quirky co-workers and a sky-high stack of query letters, she doesn’t exactly have time to discover the next great bestseller—especially when a penniless aspiring author drops dead in the agency’s waiting room. No one else seems too concerned about the man’s demise, but when Lila uncovers a series of threatening letters, she’s determined to uncover what—or who—killed the man’s dreams of literary stardom…

Lila Wilkins is a quirky, driven woman who is adjusting to a life that has been turned upside down.   Her story progressed at a nice speed and I was pulled in by her tenacity and kindness.  Lila is a middle age woman who puts all her energy in finding the murderer of a homeless man, an endeavor that becomes an interesting way to avoid focusing on her son’s typical teenage stupidity and lack of a future, losing her job, working as an intern, and moving back in with her mother.  But it is obvious that Lila has a good heart, and she attacks the mystery, and her new job, with energetic confidence.  It is fun to follow her around as she investigates the town on her bright yellow scooter.

I would have liked to see more character development in the supporting characters.  The literary agents alone are a treasure trove of crazy personalities just waiting to be discovered.  Marlette is the most developed supporting character and he is killed off in the first ten pages!  There is a lot of lost potential when it comes to the literary agents at Novel Idea, Sean, and the Amazing Althea.

The same goes for the villains of the story.  I’m not going to give anything away, but I think detailed backgrounds on the individuals would have inspired more distrust for me towards the villains.  Instead, I was more annoyed with the sporadic behaviors of the killers.

The prose could get complicated at times, but these flowery excerpts were few enough to avoid bogging down the story.  Buried in a Book (A Novel Idea Mystery #1)  is written by Lucy Arlington who is actually the writing team of Sylvia May and J.B. Stanley.  I have yet to read anything by either of these women, so I may have to fix that in the next few weeks.

Just remember not to take Buried in a Book too seriously!  The story is cliche but in all of the right ways!  Yes, Lila getting a job after immediately losing the journalism position she’s held for over twenty years is unrealistic.  Yes, the town is just a tad bit too perfect and it’s insane that Lila managed to sell her house within a week, but these details did not diminish my enjoyment of the story.  Cozy mysteries should be a tad bit cliche.

Buried in a Book is a fun mystery.  The romantic aspects may be a tad awkward, but its worth joining Lila on her journey.  I’m excited to see what the next few books hold; I immediately picked them up upon finishing this one!