Not a Girl Detective

Not a Girl Detective

by Susan Kandel

Not a Girl Detective (A Cece Caruso Mystery, #2)

“I spent my entire youth idolizing Nancy Drew. I’m pushing forty now, but some fantasies die hard.”

Besides her beloved collection of vintage designer clothing, there is nothing Cece Caruso cherishes more than her childhood memories of Nancy Drew. Her near obsession with the fictional teenage sleuth led her to become a professional biographer of classic mystery writers. And now that she’s working on a book about Nancy’s pseudonymous creator, “Carolyn Keene, ” Cece’s in heaven.

At the L. A. home of another rabid Drew-ophile, Cece finds a treasure trove of useful memorabilia, including one unique and somewhat shocking collectible. Later she finds a dead body — and a puzzle that would sorely test the skills of her spunky girlhood heroine. Now she’ll have to channel her former idol and unmask a murderer, and the killer may be coming for Cece next.

I had a difficult time initially classifying this novel; was it a mystery or a cozy-mystery?  Here is how I differentiate between the two: cozy-mysteries are short, light-hearted mysteries that can usually be finished in one sitting, always have a happy ending, and provide a series of novels following the adventures of a plucky amateur sleuth main character.  All mystery novels that don’t really adhere to these sub-genre traits are bunched under the basic tag ‘Mystery.’  Not a Girl Detective is definitely a cozy-mystery but the amount of historical information concerning the women of Nancy Drew had me hesitant to classify it as such.  Now on to the review…

Are you a fan of plucky amateur sleuths?  Would you like to learn a little about Nancy Drew and the women who developed her?  Are you in need of a good mystery for a late summer trip to the beach?  Then pick up Not a Girl Detective by Susan Kandel!

I found my copy of Not a Girl Detective in a .99 cent bin.  I was a poor college student in search of a book that wouldn’t destroy the bank account and I wasn’t expecting much from the novel.  I was surprised because the Nancy Drew theme is intriguing and the mystery is fun.  I enjoyed reading about Cece, the main character, and her antics as she searches for the missing collectable, but my favorite aspect of the book was everything associated with Nancy Drew.  Kandel included details on the women who wrote the stories under the Carolyn Keene pseudonym, the Stratenmeyer publishing syndicate, and Grace Horton, the model who provided the face of the girl sleuth.  Not a Girl Detective offered a unique mystery, not something I normally find in a cozy-mystery novel.

The novel did suffer from similar issues found in the sub-genre.  I would have liked a little more plot depth when it came to the Nancy Drew material and mystery.  I also wished there was more character development for the best friends, villains, and the boyfriend.  Maybe I would feel differently if I had actually read the first book in the series; Not a Girl Detective is the second book of Kandel’s Cece Caruso series.

So I suggest definitely picking this up for a fun read.  Nothing more.  Has anyone else read Not a Girl Detective or any of the Cece Caruso mysteries?



The Dinosaur Hunter

The Dinosaur Hunter
by Homer Hickam

The Dinosaur Hunter

A fascinating thriller, well crafted and relentless … A cross between Tony Hillerman and Larry McMurtry, this is one hell of a good read.”–Douglas Preston, author of Tyrannosaur Canyon and Blasphemy
The cowboys who work on the ranchlands of Montana expect more than their fair share of trouble. One of them is Mike Wire, a former homicide detective. Mike is about to learn murder and mayhem can happen under Motnana’s big skies, too. Beneath the earth lie enough dinosaur fossils to fill several museum collections—and make a fortune for whoever claims them first. Soon he will have to combine everything he learned as a cop with everything he knows as a cowboy to protect the people and the land he could never live without.

Ok, I decided to post a book that definitely fits the extra hot summer this year since I posted a book that made me think of fall earlier this week.  The Dinosaur Hunter documents a paleontological excavation on a Montana ranch in the middle of summer.  I initially grabbed The Dinosaur Hunter for a number of reasons: paleontology, Montana ranches, and a cop turned cowboy.  See, I grew up on a small ranch so I usually enjoy any story that spends a good amount of time describing wide open spaces.  Spaces that I miss terribly now that I am located in a neighborhood.  I also started my adult life with dreams of being an archaeologist, so the paleontology aspect of the book was interesting because I have always enjoyed digging in the dirt.  As for the cop turned cowboy…well that’s just personal preference!

The Dinosaur Hunter is the only Hickam novel I have read, but I was already a little biased by the time I started reading thanks to the October Sky movie.  This novel is slow.  And by slow I mean Hickam utilizes his two main male characters to ‘wax poetic’ about something every chapter.  “Oh, get on with it,” was uttered numerous times while driving around town with the audiobook.  I did not expect the book to be so long winded but that’s what happens when you see a movie first.  It definitely makes a good audiobook if you have a long stretch of road to travel.

Hickam presents characters that are definitely flawed.  The only character that I did not like was Dr. Pickford; there was nothing redeeming about this character.  He was boring, lazy, just painful to listen to, a liar, and participated in the most infuriating ‘hook up’ of the entire novel.  (I’m still a little peeved about him if you can’t tell)  I really liked Mike, but I spent most of the novel wishing he would be more assertive.  I expected him to have a stronger personality as a result of his law enforcement experience.  Nope, but I still connected with him and enjoyed his story.

The Dinosaur Hunter was good.  Pick it up if you are interested in learning about excavations or the complexity of BLM land rights.  It also provides a great escape if you are longing for cattle pastures and mountains.  Has anyone else read The Dinosaur Hunter?


Phantom Evil

Phantom Evil

by Heather Graham

Phantom Evil (Krewe of Hunters, #1)

A secret government unit, a group of renegade paranormal investigators… and a murder no one else can crack.

Though haunted by the recent deaths of two teammates, Jackson Crow knows that the living commit the most heinous crimes.

A police officer utilizing her paranormal intuition, Angela Hawkins already has her hands full of mystery and bloodshed.

But one assignment calls to them too strongly to resist. In a historic mansion in New Orleans’s French Quarter, a senator’s wife falls to her death. Most think she jumped; some say she was pushed. And yet others believe she was beckoned by the ghostly spirits inhabiting the house — once the site of a serial killer’s grisly work.

In this seemingly unsolvable case, only one thing is certain: whether supernatural or all too human, crimes of passion will cast Jackson and Angela into danger of losing their lives… and their immortal souls.

I am ready for October and all the fun stuff that the fall season brings! But I’ll wait until later to wax poetic about my love for October. Summers are hot and humid in Florida and they leave me longing for cool breezes, cloudy days, and all things pumpkin! So I decided to post a book that falls into my normal genres for October.

I enjoy Heather Graham; I am not her biggest fan because I am not much of a romance reader but I do find her paranormal mysteries engaging. I am one of those people who enjoys getting the heebie-jeebies every once in a while. So I picked up a audio copy of Phantom Evil, book one of Graham’s new Krewe of Hunters series.

It was not my favorite. The storyline was different and interesting but Phantom Evil just really didn’t do anything for me compared to some of Graham’s other novels. I have identified a number of reasons for this. First, six people is too many team members. Graham was forced to constantly re-introduce each main and secondary character each time they talked. This diminished the uniqueness of each and left most team members acting as story padding. Second, the romance between Jackson and Angela happens far too fast. Many of you might be yelling ‘SPOILERS’ but believe me, you know it’s going to happen by the end of the first chapter. I liked the chemistry between the two but the speed of the relationship reminded me of an amped up High School romance; both characters were dreaming of forever by the end of the story. The time frame, a couple of weeks, seemed far too short for such level headed adults. Third, the mystery and ghost story were both engaging but they just did not seem to work well together. I think part of that is due to my last point: Graham did not include enough about New Orleans. I was wanting to feel, hear, and smell the city and it just wasn’t there for me.

It was still a fun story. I love the mansion where the majority of the action occurs. I can totally see myself touring such a place, but I am a fan of ‘ghost tours.’ I like how Graham’s descriptions give me the heebie-jeebies! The scenes in the attic and basement kept me riveted to the story and still give me chills when I recall them. The ghost story was well done and I recommend Phantom Evil if you also enjoy such stories! Pick up Phantom Evil for a good spooky story to enjoy on a chilly fall evening.

Who else has read Phantom Evil? What Heather Graham book would you recommend?



My life changed big time a little over a week ago. I officially graduated with my Master’s degree.

30 Rock

I am still in a mild state of shock at this exciting moment, but holding a hard copy of my thesis was rather exciting! The last three years have been VERY long and almost torturous at some points, but yet; I still find myself browsing the course catalog and feeling that thrill of excitement I have at the start of every fall semester. Don’t worry; I WILL NOT be going back to school any time soon. It’s just the finality of the situation has yet to really sink in.

Graduation has brought new and exciting activities to my plate. I continue to read as much as I can and I have officially started writing my first novel. I worked on various novels over the last year but I now have the chance to finally focus on my passions without homework getting in the way. I’ve even started a new skin care business with Rodan + Fields. I plan on doing more flying, scuba diving, kayaking, writing, and reading in the coming months.

My family is excitedly reading my thesis and they continue to support my goals and dreams. Now I embark on a new adventure: discovering what I want to really do with my life! Thank you all for your support as I continue exploring the written word and sharing my reviews. I am excited to see where I go with this new found freedom!


The Giver – Movie Adaptation

Movie – The Giver

The Giver (2014) Poster

This lazy Saturday afternoon was spent at the movies.  We had initially planned on seeing Guardians of the Galaxy until arriving to a sold out show, so the family agreed to see The Giver.  I was beyond excited and somehow managed to keep my shrieks of delight silent.  I love going to the movies and am one who enjoys watching my favorite stories transformed on the ‘big screen.’  So here is a short review about the movie and how it compared to Louis Lowery’s The Giver.

The movie is visually amazing and only enhanced the images described by Lowery.  The use of color to emphasize the change from sameness to individuality is worth the price of admissions.  My favorite scene is when Jonas first experiences a sunset and Jeff Bridges is perfect as the Giver.  I was thrilled that the story was not morphed in to one of teenage angst or an intense action movie.

The movie does not stray far from the original story but there are a number of modified details.  None of these changes left me upset or disappointed; as a matter of fact, many of these changes strengthened all of the secondary characters.  I recommend fans of the book check out this interview with Lowery about the movie adaptation.

I recommend seeing The Giver!  I left the theater with a smile on my face and ready to watch it again.  Has anyone else seen it?



The Yard

The Yard
by Alex Grecian
The Yard (The Murder Squad #1)

Victorian London is a cesspool of crime, and Scotland Yard has only twelve detectives—known as “The Murder Squad”—to investigate countless murders every month. Created after the Metropolitan Police’s spectacular failure to capture Jack the Ripper, The Murder Squad suffers rampant public contempt. They have failed their citizens. But no one can anticipate the brutal murder of one of their own . . . one of the twelve . . .When Walter Day, the squad’s newest hire, is assigned the case of the murdered detective, he finds a strange ally in the Yard’s first forensic pathologist, Dr. Bernard Kingsley. Together they track the killer, who clearly is not finished with The Murder Squad . . . but why?

Filled with fascinating period detail, and real historical figures, this spectacular debut in a new series showcases the depravity of late Victorian London, the advent of criminology, and introduces a stunning new cast of characters sure to appeal to fans of The Sherlockian and The Alienist.

Cover design is an important factor for me when picking out a book.  I am a visual person and will often times pluck a book off the shelf just because of the cover.  This was one of those times, and boy am I glad I did!  Alex Grecian’s The Yard provided the perfect gritty murder mystery that I have been craving the last few weeks.

So negatives first just to get them out of the way.  I was displeased with how shallow most of the female characters are, especially with how developed the main characters are for a first novel.  Fiona and the two prostitutes are the only females I found relatable; the rest were just there and it left all dialogue including these characters flat and confusing.   I am hoping there is more to the woman in the next installment.  Just remember that The Yard is a first novel, so there could be more showing language instead of telling language, but I am excited to see how Grecian evolves over time.

Ok, on to all of the positive notes!  The main characters are wonderful.  I fell ‘head over heels’ for all of them and found myself rooting out loud for each in their struggles.  Day, Kingsley, and Hammersmith are vivid individuals in my imagination and I actually did a ‘happy dance’ upon finishing the book last night!  I will the starting the next installment, The Black Country, as soon as I get my hands on it.

I am impressed at the complex writing style utilized by Grecian.  Readers will follow multiple plot lines while solving at least three mysteries. Grecian’s style can be rather choppy because he jumps between each mystery and includes three interludes in to each main character’s past.  I was not initially a fan of the writing style because its complexity may discourage many readers, but I now believe it is the best way to present the story.  I suggest devoting large periods of time to reading The Yard because you will not want to leave Victorian London!

The Murder Squad novels would be a perfect read in the fall if you are a ‘tone’ reader like me.  Fall’s cool weather and dreary rain showers will only to draw you more into the story!  I applaud Alex Grecian; he has managed to capture the nature of real investigation while maintaining an entertaining story.  I am almost sad that The Yard had to end!

Has anyone else picked up Alex Grecian’s novels?  If so, what do you think?


The Retrieval Artist

The Retrieval Artist
by Kristine Kathryn Rusch


The short novel that started the entire Retrieval Artist series, The Retrieval Artist introduced Miles Flint to the world. Hugo-nominated, chosen as one of the best stories of the year, The Retrieval Artist created an entire universe, and Flint himself became what io9 calls “one of the top ten science fiction detectives ever.”

Part CSI, part Blade Runner, and part hard-boiled gumshoe, the retrieval artist of the series title, one Miles Flint, would be as at home on a foggy San Francisco street in the 1940s as he is in the domed lunar colony of Armstrong City.
-The Edge

It feels like a popular TV series crossed with a Spielberg film-engaging…
-Locus on The Disappeared

Rusch mounts hard-boiled noir on an expansive sf background with great panache.
-Booklist on Consequences

Ok, so I could not get a good synopsis of The Retrieval Artist, so I will supply a short one.

Miles Flint is the best in his field and it has allowed him a life of luxury in the Armstrong Moon Colony. It also allows him the right to be picky about the cases he takes. He has no intention on helping the beautiful brunette find her mother but he soon finds himself searching for one more of the Disappeared.

Brief, but this is a rather short novel and I have no skills when it comes to writing synopsizes. The best I can say about The Retrieval Artist is that it made me want to pick up the rest of Rusch’s novels. Miles Flint has the attitude and conflicted conscious of a noir gumshoe that I adore and I could not put the book down! Flint is a retrieval artist who is responsible for locating people who have purposefully disappeared. Rusch takes you through the interesting aspects of his craft while whisking you through a futuristic world full of aliens and corrupt business. I like her imagery and the grittiness of the story.

I wish I could provide more info about the actual storyline, but I am afraid that I would spoil it for you. I think Rusch did outstanding with her chosen medium. I have added this series to my reading list and recommend it to anyone who enjoys noir crime and science fiction! Has anyone else read Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s novels?


The Blue Girl

The Blue Girl
by Alex Grecian

The Blue Girl (Murder Squad, #2.5)

From the author of the nationally bestselling suspense novel The Yard and its sequel The Black Country, both novels of Scotland Yard’s Murder Squad, coves a short story of the Squad, a cautionary tale: Be careful what you wish for.

October 1889: Constable Colin Pringle is a man of few illusions, but there is something about the girl in the canal, her skin a delicate shade of blue, that bothers him more than he expected it would. Perhaps it’s because Dr. Kingsley’s forensic examination suggests that she was a just-married bride. Someone needs to find out just who she was and what happened to her, Pringle decides, and he sets out to do exactly that. But the answers will not be anything like what he expects. In fact, they will shake his view of the world to the core.

The Blue Girl is officially listed as #2.5 in Grecian’s Murder Squad series, but I decided to review it first because the story takes place before the opening novel in the series, The Yard. But, I suggest reading The Yard, which I will review tomorrow, before The Blue Girl. The Yard provides the detailed character development and established relationships that readers should know before jumping in to the short story. Also, Grecian should commend his cover artist because the covers for each book are amazing! This is my favorite; it is morbidly beautiful and it gives me chills each time I see it.

On to the review! The Blue Girl is told as an entry in Constable Colin Pringle’s personal journal. It is written from his POV and follows his investigation for the killer of the blue bride. The story needed to be longer. Grecian did not have the space to tell the story and include his usual flare and descriptive language. The Blue Girl starts out in Grecian’s normal style as he shows us selflessness of destitute Londoners retrieving the girl’s body, but such descriptive language diminishes as the story progresses. I know that Colin Pringle is a vain, but good man from The Yard; he comes across as stuck up and almost whiny in this short story. I also didn’t feel like Pringle’s view of the world was rocked to the core upon discovering the truth behind the blue girl’s death. I could tell that he was disturbed by the outcome of the investigation but nothing more. The latter half of the story was missing the vibrant ‘showing’ language that makes Grecian’s novels so enjoyable. Hopefully his next short story will be longer.

Grecian’s secondary female characters are rather flat, both in The Yard and The Blue Girl. I expect this to change as he continues writing and building his experience. I’ll discuss Grecian’s writing style further in my review of The Yard.

Overall it is a good short story and I definitely did not expect the ending! I love Grecian’s characters and I really enjoy the time period of the Murder Squad novels. I recommend The Blue Girl as a fun read but I suggest you start with The Yard to get a better feel for the characters and Grecian’s writing style. Has anyone else read The Blue Girl?


Twenties Girl

Twenties Girl

by Sophie Kinsella

Twenties Girl

Lara Lington has always had an overactive imagination, but suddenly that imagination seems to be in overdrive.  Normal professional twenty-something young women don’t get visited by ghosts.  Or do they?

When the spirit of Lara’s great-aunt Sadie – a feisty, demanding girl with firm ideas about fashion, love, and the right way to dance – mysteriously appears, she has one request: Lara must find a missing necklace that had been in Sadie’s possession for more than seventy-five years, because Sadie cannot rest without it.

Lara and Sadie make a hilarious sparring duo, and at first it seems as though they have nothing in common.  But as the mission to find Sadie’s necklace leads to intrigue and a new romance for Lara, these very different “twenties” girls learn some surprising truths from and about each other.  Written with all the irrepressible charm and humor that have made Sophie Kinsella’s books beloved by millions, Twenties Girl is also a deeply moving testament to the transcendent bonds of friendship and family.

I tend to read novels that follow particular themes during certain months of the year.  October is usually reserved for supernatural and Halloween mysteries and I picked up Twenties Girl last October solely due to the ghostly mystery it promised.  October was not the right month for this book and it would have been a much more enjoyable read in the middle of summer on the beach.  So I thought now would be the perfect time to share my review!

I did not enjoy Twenties Girl for the first two-thirds of the novel.  This is the first Sophie Kinsella novel and I enjoy her writing style but both main characters, Lara and Sadie, were self-centered, obnoxious, whiny individuals that left me yelling at my cd player on multiple occasions.  Lara and Sadie are two selfish and stubborn women who must to respect each other which leaves readers struggling alongside them through pages of petty bickering.  I usually enjoy a flawed character but it was tough embracing Lara and Sadie.  I almost returned the book because I was so sick of Sadie’s demands and Lara constantly adding drama to her own life.

And then the last third of the book happened.  I was so glad I stuck it out because I completely forgot about the whining and bickering as Kinsella drew me along on the frantic search for the missing necklace.  The girls come together to right the wrongs of Sadie’s past and they finally start connecting with one another.  Sadie shows Lara the glamour of the 1920s and Lara gives Sadie a loving friendship.  Readers finally start learning the mystery behind Sadie’s demanding nature and the two women embrace and overcome their flaws to achieve success.  I even enjoyed Lara’s awkwardness in her budding relationship with Ed.

There is one scene that has stuck with me through the months and of course I cannot talk about it because of spoilers!  I find myself envisioning the details of the shock and joy experienced by both women and I delight in mentally reliving that moment over and over again.  That scene is why I truly enjoyed the book and I wish I could thank Kinsella for that one moment!

So who else has read Twenties Girl?


The Giver

The Giver by Lois Lowery

The Giver (The Giver #1)

Jonas’ world is perfect. Everything is under control. There is no war or fear or pain. There are no choices. Every person is assigned a role in the Community. When Jonas turns twelve, he is singled out to receive special training from The Giver. The Giver alone holds the memories of the true pain and pleasure of life. Now, it is time for Jonas to receive the truth. There is no turning back.

So last weekend I decided to reread The Giver because of the movie based on the book opening August 15th.  The Giver is a staple book taught in middle school English classes through out the United States and I first read it when in my early teens.  I can still remember the feelings enticed by the novel despite having read it over 15 years ago.  Frustration and slight confusion.  But The Giver made me think and I felt it was the perfect time to reread the childhood classic.

Side note:  This will not be a review that breaks down Lowery’s inner messages.  I am not going to provide any political accusation or lectures on morality.  I suggest you browse the Goodreads comment section if that is what you are searching for.  I am going to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the novel and how my perceptions of the content has changed since reading it again.

So first things first, The Giver is a children’s book so it lacks the depth and description that most adult readers would look for.  Lowery does leave a number of nuances unexplained, or explained in a fashion that leaves a reader craving more information, but the descriptive language is good for a children’s novel.  I vividly remember my excitement at Jonas seeing the color red.  I remember the tears brought on by Jonas’ confusion and the realization of the true meaning of release.  I remember being quite peeved at the vague ending and rereading it brought these memories back in full force.  Now I am able to digest all of the small details, such as ribbons, jackets, and comfort animals, that I missed in that first reading.  Focusing on these details allowed me to realize the lack of wonder Lowery’s world contains.

The Giver is a dystopian novel, and like all dystopian novels, contains messages concerning society, morality, politics, and the author’s concern for the future.  Just remember that the author’s ethnocentricity courses through the pages; this is why I will not touch the subjects mentioned in the side note.  I recommend The Giver to readers of all ages because Lowery inspires her readers to observe and learn about the world and society that surrounds them.  Forget the moral issues concerning release; forget the accusations that this book calls for young readers to rise against their parents and government.  The Giver forces readers to recognize the small pleasures we have in life, such as seeing colors and hearing music, and it pushes readers to search for both the positive and negative attributes of an ideal or situation before forming opinions.  A prime example is when the Giver reminds Jonas of the helpful effects of the community, no poverty, war, or starvation, when Jonas verbally bashes the society for the restriction of true individuality and quests of enlightenment.  The Giver pushes you to think.

So that is my brief take on the novel.  It is a tad bit more deep than most of my reviews but I felt with was necessary considering this is a book taught to kids.  Definitely take a look, or a second look, at The Giver.  How do you feel about The Giver?   Who else is going to see the movie?