Sunday, December 26, 2010

Two Mysteries Revolving Around Sewing Circles

     You don't have to sew to enjoy these two light mysteries.  The sewing circles in both of these books simply give the author a chance to introduce characters and move the plot forward. 
     The sewing circle in The Lover's Knot is in Archer's Rest, New York which is about an hours train ride from New York City.  Nell Fitzgerald has retreated to Archer's Rest to recover from a broken engagement. The engagement had progressed far enough that the invitations were waiting to be addressed, Nell had already given up her apartment in New York, and her grandmother's quilting circle had finished and sent The Lover's Knot quilt when Ryan showed up and announced he wasn't ready to be married.  Nell's grandmother lives in Archer's Rest so Nell goes there for a weekend of chocolate and sympathy. 
     While in Archer's Rest, she meets the town's handyman who is young, handsome and devious.  Nell's grandmother, Eleanor, hires him to remodel the quilt shop which Eleanor owns.  An accident in the shop sends Eleanor to the hospital with a broken leg and Nell decides to stay in Archer's Rest to help her grandmother.  When the handyman ends up dead in the quilt shop, everyone in the sewing circle becomes a suspect including Nell. 
     The fact that the Archer's Rest chief of police is handsome and single definitely adds to the mix.
     The other sewing circle is far from the one in New York, both geographically and socially.  The sewing circle in Sew Deadly is in Sweet Briar, South Carolina.  Sweet Briar is a little town where everyone who lives there was born there and newcomers are not welcome.  Tori Sinclair, from Chicago, enters this closed society to become the town's librarian.  Not only is Tori not from Sweet Briar, she is from the North, uses a nickname, and finds that the former librarian was fired not retired. 
     Tori manages to become friends with the owner of the local antique store who invites her to come to the Sweet Briar Ladies Society Sewing Circle.  Tori is slowly beginning to learn the rules of the South only to have the town sweetheart show up dead at the back door of the library.  The local police investigator is sure that Tori has killed the girl in a love triangle.  Since the investigator doesn't seem to be looking at anybody else as the murderer, Tori sets out to solve the crime herself.  The sewing circle provides both suspects and clues as it meets weekly to discuss the unsettling events taking place in Sweet Briar.
     Both of these mysteries are light and fun reading.  The members of each circle are clearly drawn and diverse enough to provide the reader with plenty of ideas for motive and suspects.  You'll spend a pleasant evening with Nell and Tori even if you can't thread a needle.

Southern Sewing Circle Series

Sew Deadly
Death Threads
Pinned for Murder

A Someday Quilts Mystery Series

The Lover's Knot
A Drunkard's Path
The Double Cross

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Deceptions, a Jamestown Novel by Marilyn J. Clay

     Marilyn J. Clay has done her homework with meticulous care for her novel Deceptions.  The book is set in Jamestown in 1617 and Clay was careful to keep her characters within the framework of the strict moral codes which governed at that time.  Men were all powerful and women had almost no rights at all.  Husbands were the rulers of the house and village and women were there to see that the man had what ever he wanted.
     Catherine Parke escapes England when her guardian decides it is time for Catherine to marry a man she doesn't love.  Catherine happens to meet Pocahontas right before the Indian princess dies in England and she feels a close bond with the Indian princess.  Catherine takes passage on  a ship to Jamestown where she hopes to be reunited with her father, her brother, and the man she has loved since childhood.
     Life in 1617 Jamestown is harder than Catherine had ever imagined but she survives and even thrives.  Her brother is still alive and so is her childhood love, but Noah is no longer the fun-loving, gentle boy he was in England.  Catherine's brother, Adam, warns her against Noah, but Catherine is still living her dream of marrying Noah and the two of them finding peace and happiness together.  Fortunately, Catherine discovers Noah's duplicity just in time to save herself and her baby.
     Deceptions is a great read just for the romance and the character interaction, but its real draw is the historical accuracy of the setting.  It is amazing that Jamestown was able to get a toehold in the New World and to hold on to that fragile link long enough to really get the town established.  The book gives the reader that feeling of fragility and how, in spite of the governors sent by England to rule the colony, the common people of Jamestown were the force that maintained the colony.  It was the people who were willing to work for the common good who kept the colony going.  The relationship of the people to the Indians was equally important and, in 1617, the Indians were mostly still amenable to the whites.
     You will walk away from Deceptions not only remembering Catherine and Phyrahawque but also those determined colonists who set the framework for our country.
     Look for more carefully researched historical romance from Marilyn J. Clay.

Maybe This Time by Jennifer Crusie

     If you like your romance with humor, then Jennifer Crusie is the author for you!  This is the first Crusie book I have read, but I will continue to scan the shelves for more.
     In Maybe This Time, Andromeda "Andie" Miller is finally getting on with her life.  Ten years after her divorce from North Archer she has met the nice, steady man of her dreams.  She plans to marry him just as soon as she has "closure" with North.  To get this closure, she goes to North's office to return ten years' worth of alimony checks.  He accepts them and all is well, except on her way out the door, North asks her to go to south Ohio and stay for a month with two children who have become his wards.  When North offers ten thousand dollars a month, there is no way Andie can say no. 
     When Andie arrives at the falling-in monstrosity of a house which was moved to Ohio from England at least 100 years ago, she realizes there is a lot more going on than even North is aware of.  The house is filthy, the housekeeper is crazy, and the children are terribly neglected. When it becomes clear to Andie that there are ghosts in the house, she becomes determined to remove the children.  The children, however, are equally determined to stay.
     In addition to the crazy housekeeper, Crusie has added many other interesting and colorful minor players.  Andie's free-wheeling mother, North's straight-laced, up-tight mother, his way too laid back brother, the brother's conniving TV reporter girl-friend, and an unconvinced parapsychologist are just a few of the supporting cast.  Crusie keeps all these characters in their places with humor and some ghostly help.  The final scenes, complete with seances, are well worth the few pages at the beginning where the action is a little slow.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Play Dead by Meryl Sawyer

    Hayley Fordham arrives home from a painting commission in Costa Rica to find an intruder in her loft.  She doesn't know that she was declared dead when her car was blown to bits by a car bomb.  When a check was run on her passport it didn't show she was out of the country and no one knew she had loaned her car to a friend.  Since there wasn't enough of the person in the car left to identify, everyone assumed it was Hayley.  The intruder turns out to be FBI investigator Ryan Hollister who is there at the request of Hayley's aunt to clear the loft so it can be sold.
     When Ryan realizes it is Hayley returned from the dead, he convinces her to Play Dead since it is obvious that is what someone wants. Hayley agrees for a couple of days while they try to find the killer.  There are several possibilities including her half-brother and half-sister and her ex-boyfriend.  They each have motive but could any one of them actually plant a car bomb?  Although Hayley has never been especially close to her brother and sister, it is hard for her to imagine they would want the family business enough to actually murder her.
     As Hayley and Ryan spend more time together the sparks between them ignite.  Hayley has lost all confidence in her ability to pick suitable men and Ryan is still somewhere in the process of mourning his dead wife. When the killer comes close enough to send Hayley to the hospital, Ryan realizes how much Hayley has come to mean to him.
     Meryl Sawyer keeps the plot moving and the action fast and furious.  She does keep her characters in focus and she does not let them wander from their mission which is to keep the reader turning the pages as fast as possible. 
      If you like romantic suspense by Linda Howard, Sandra Brown, or Catherine Coulter, then don't miss Meryl Sawyer.

Other Meryl Sawyer Thrillers

Lady Killer (c2004)
Better Off Dead (c2005)
Half Past Dead (c2006)
Kiss of Death (c2007)
Death's Door (2009)

Saturday, December 18, 2010

The Dying Game by Beverly Barton

     After I read Don't Cry by Beverly Barton I scanned the shelves one day for her other books.  She had several and I landed on The Dying Game (c2007).  Once again, Barton had caught me quickly and there was no way I could walk away without finding out who this serial killer was. 
     He goes after former beauty queens and "picks them before they can wither."  He assigns them points by hair color and he kills them in a way which associates them with the talent they displayed in the pageants.  He always leaves a long-stemmed rose on the body.
     Lindsay McAllister was a rookie detective when she was called to the scene of one such murder in Chattanooga four years ago.  She saw how that death devastated Judd Walker, the husband of the victim, and how her death started Judd on a long descent into his own personal hell.  Judd hires Powell Investigators to find his wife's killer and Lindsay goes to work for Powell in order to pursue the case full time.
     When the killer strikes again, Lindsay is assigned to tell Judd and ask for his help in finding the perp.  Things do not go well because Judd has fallen further and is nearly a lost cause.
      The body count continues to rise and the time between killings narrows as everyone realizes that the game is coming to an end.  The book ends with redemption for Judd and Lindsay placing herself within grasp of the killer. 
     This serial killer is disposed of but Griff Powell and FBI agent, Nicole Baxter, do not think that he acted alone.  The Murder Game picks up when Griff and Nic each receive a call from the second killer telling them the game is still on, however the rules have changed.  The killer leaves each of them cryptic clues to his next victim forcing them to play his game if they want to have any chance to help the new victims. 
     Because this game is so close to what Griff suffered in the past, he finds himself reliving his darkest days.  When the killer strikes close to home by kidnapping Nic, Griff is nearly brought down.
     What I found interesting about The Murder Game was that after the heroine saves herself, the book isn't finished.  In an interesting plot twist, the killer once again gets away and he is arrogant enough to continue the game.  He once again sends clues to Griff and Nic and, once again, they must play his game. 
     Barton is a master at keeping her characters defined and on task.  Her plots are twisty, suspenseful and off-beat.  A good read, a satisfying wrap-up.

Other Barton novels connected to Griffin Powell &/or the Powell Agency

Killing Her Softly (c2005)
Close Enough To Kill (c2006)
The Dying Game (c2007)
The Murder Game (c2008)
Cold Hearted (c2008)
Silent Killer (c2009)
Dead By Midnight (c2009)

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Suzanne Enoch - Historical Romance at Its Best

     You always know when you start a Suzanne Enoch historical romance that you are in for a whirlwind ride.  Her leading ladies are not always darlings of the ton and her heroes are sometimes not of the nobility but the way she pairs them up  always keeps her reader guessing and the story racing along to a satisfactory and logical conclusion.  Enoch is also very subtle in showing what the high society of the 18th and 19th century valued in its man and women.  Women were no more than property and if left with no male relative to look after them, they were truly nonentities.  Any man, no matter who his father was, who had to earn a living was considered "common" and even if he did well and earned a great deal of respect, he was still looked down on.  If you read Enoch simply for the story you will have a good read, but if you look beyond the story you will also learn a great deal about English customs and nobility.  You will certainly understand why the nobility was doomed and the English had to find an outlet for all that unused talent in its second sons and commoners.
     In her series, The Notorious Gentlemen, Enoch uses all those threads to present smart women who are more than pretty faces and second sons and commoners to match up with them.  In Book One of the series, After the Kiss, the unacknowledged bastard son of an upstanding Lord has made a very respectable life for himself as a horse breeder.  Sullivan Waring, however, takes to the night as a thief, reclaiming the paintings his mother left him which were stolen from him by his father.  On one of his nighttime raids, he encounters Lady Isabel Chalsey and he can't resist a stolen kiss.  One kiss can lead to a lifetime of love or denial.  Only Lady Chalsey and Sullivan can find their way through the maze of English propriety to their destination.
     Book Two, Before the Scandal, introduces Colonel Phineas Bromley, a second son, and Alyse Donnelly, the lady he left behind.  Phin has been called home because a series of unfortunate "accidents" has befallen his family's estate and his sister thinks Phin is the only one who can get to the bottom of the affair.  Phin takes to the road as a highwayman to find the evidence he needs and instead finds Alyse in the coach he stops.  He discovers that Alyse has been deposed from her position as the privileged daughter of a nobleman because her father failed to make arrangements for her upon his death.  Her home and fortune are now controlled by her cousin and he doesn't like Alyse one bit.  Together they find the perpetrator of the "accidents" and in so doing increase the danger to Alyse.
     Don't miss this great series.  The stories are fresh and the look at English high society is revealing!

The Notorious Gentlemen Series
     After the Kiss (c2008)
     Before the Scandal (c2008)
     Always a Scroundrel (c2009)

Friday, December 10, 2010

A Dog Named Christmas by Greg Kincaid

     The local animal shelter has come up with a new program called "Adopt a Dog for Christmas."  Todd McCray decides his family should take a dog from the program for the week before Christmas.  However, there is one big problem with Todd's plan.  He is a 20 year-old, mentally handicapped, adult-child  still living at home on the farm in Kansas with his parents and his Dad doesn't want a dog.  Todd can be very persuasive so it doesn't take him long to convince his father that this is a good plan.  George, his father, tells Todd that he will agree to the plan, but that Todd must realize Christmas ends on December 26 and the dog goes back to the shelter on that day.  Todd understands and promises that the dog will be returned to the shelter.
     While they are at the shelter picking out their dog, Todd asks the shelter director what will happen to the other  dogs.  He is very concerned when he learns that those dogs will spend Christmas in their kennels at the shelter. 
     It has been a McCray Christmas custom to hold an open house on the Sunday before Christmas and nearly all the families in their small town stop by.  At that open house, Todd begins telling everyone about the shelter and the "Adopt a Dog for Christmas" program.  Gradually he enlists enough families so that every dog is adopted for Christmas week.
     Well, as you can imagine, in the week that "Christmas" stays with the McCrays, he worms his way into each heart, especially George's.  George, however, is determined to teach Todd that when you make a promise who must keep it.  George has also had some heart-wrenching experiences with dogs in the past and he isn't sure that he can survive giving his love to another dog.
     There is no doubt that this is a Christmas story first, but it is also the story of a man struggling to be a good parent and a family that is fully supportive of each member.  There are so many stories about dysfunctional families, it is wonderful to read about a real family working together to really help each other.  If you are a read-aloud together family, a Dog Named Christmas was written for you!  If you just want a Christmas story to enjoy, you will not find a better selection.  If you get as caught up with George McCray as I did, you can read his story in the prequel, Christmas with Tucker.  Be sure to add these to your bookshelf.  Put them right beside Miracle on 34th Street.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Susan Mallery's Lone Star Sisters Series

     Although each book in this series of four can stand alone, you will enjoy them more if you start at the beginning with Under Her SkinThis first book introduces most of the characters and gives you the background to really enjoy the dynamics between the sisters and their father.  The three Titan sisters and their life-long friend, Dana Birch, are in the fight of their life against their half-brother, Garth Duncan.
     Garth is out for revenge because his father, Jed Titan, refused to help him when Garth was 14.  Garth doesn't mind destroying his half-sisters either, although they had nothing to do with their father's rejection of him.  They didn't even know he existed.  In the first book, Under Her Skin, Lexi, the oldest Titan sister nearly loses her business to Garth.  In her struggle to save it, she makes an outrageous deal with Cruz Rodrigues.  He will give her the two million dollars she needs in exchange for her marrying him and introducing him to Texas society.  Lexi and Cruz share a past and once again sparks fly as they begin living out their deal.
     The second book in the series is Lip Service and this is Skye's story.  Skye is the second sister in the Titan family and the one who has always tried to please their father.  Her first marriage was arranged, and even though Skye had already promised to marry Mitch Cassidy, she went through with the marriage to keep peace in the family.  This marriage produced a daughter who her father, Jed, will later use to keep her tied to him when he realizes that Skye and Mitch are once again together.  Meanwhile, Garth is moving closer to bringing down the Titan family.
     Straight from the Hip brings the third sister into the picture.  Izzy is a free spirit who never gets attached and goes for the most dangerous adventure possible.  Right now she is an under-water welder on an oil rig. When the rig blows up, Izzy is left with impaired vision and the sisters unite to bring Garth down.  He has gone to far when he physically hurt one of them.  Garth's best friend, Nick, enters the picture when he helps Izzy find the courage to have the surgery that will restore her sight or leave her completely blind.  Garth swears that he had nothing to do with the explosion and vows to find who did it.  He hints that it might be Jed himself because Jed is getting desperate.  Izzy is beginning to think Garth might be right and she decides that Garth needs to be saved.  He is family and family means a great deal to the Titan sisters.
     Dana Birch has been friends with the sisters since childhood.  Now a deputy on the Titanville police force, she is determined to keep them safe.  Hot on Her Heels is the story of a strong woman who has vowed never to give a man any power over her.  As Garth becomes more human, Dana sees that she is going to have to distance herself from him to keep herself safe. 
     This series is a powerful statement on family - what it is and what it means.  You don't have to share blood to belong to a family and just because you do share blood doesn't mean that you are a part of the family.  Mallery has created four women, each as different as can be, but strong in their love for the others and determined to keep the family together even as they discover the treachery of their father.

Lone Star Sisters Series

Under Her Skin (c2009)
Lip Service (c2009)
Straight from the Hip (c2009)
Hot on Her Heels (c2009)

Fool's Gold Series

Chasing Perfect (c2010)
Almost Perfect (c2010)
Finding Perfect (c2010)