Thursday, May 6, 2021

Book Review: The Mugger by Ed McBain

The Mugger (87th Precinct, #2)The Mugger (87th Precinct #2). Ed McBain. The Armchair Detective Library (1990, first published 1956). 151 pages. Genre: Mystery.

First Lines: "Katherine Ellio sat in a hard, wooden chair in the Detective Squad Room of the 87th Precinct.  The early-afternoon sunlight, burnished by autumn, tarnished as a Spanish coin, filtered through the long grilled windows, shadowing her face with a meshed-square pattern."

Summary:  There has been a rash of muggings on the streets of the 87th Precinct.  So far the only description they have of the mugger is that he wears sunglasses and just before leaving the scene, he bows and says, "Clifford thanks you". 

Bert Kling is anxious to get back to work.  He has been off for several weeks after having been shot in the shoulder.  Frankly, he's bored.  So, when a friend of his asks for a favor, Burt agrees.  The friend wants Burt to come to his house and meet his wife and agree to talk to his wife's teenage sister.  The wife fears she is involved with some unsavory people, but the girl keeps to herself and doesn't want to talk.  As Burt talks to the girl, he gets the feeling she is hiding something, but he isn't able to learn anything new. 

When a seventeen-year-old girl is found dead at the bottom of a cliff a few days later, Burt is saddened to learn it is the sister of his friend.  A pair of broken sunglasses are found near the body which leads the investigators to think this was done by their mugger.  However, there is not much evidence to go on.  

Burt has only been back to work for a few days when the murder happens and he is not a detective, he is a patrolman.  But, he feels somewhat responsible for the girl's death, wishing he would have pushed a little harder to get her to talk.  So he begins to poke around and ask questions. After being reprimanded by the captain, he promises to stay out of it.  But, he can't help the work that he has already done and the way his mind keeps working on it.  Will the precinct be able to get this mugger off the streets before he kills again?

My thoughts:  Last year my husband and I watched several seasons of Hill Street Blues, the famous cop show from the '80's. We both have memories of the show being on TV when we were growing up.  We enjoyed watching the show and loved the characters.  When I learned that it was inspired by Ed McBain's 87th Precinct novels, I wanted to read one. This book is the second in the series.  From what I understand the first book, Cop Hater, introduces the characters at the precinct.  I could tell I had missed something, but it wasn't too difficult to follow what was happening.

The book is very similar to the show in that there is usually one main crime case that they are working on per show. In this case it was the mugging, but there were side stories relating to the personal lives of the characters and other crimes that needed to be handled in the midst of the main investigation.  There weren't any of the characters that I loved from reading this book, but I could see how you might become attached to them after a few books. 

This book gives a insider's view of a police department in the heart of New York in the 1950's.  There are lots of derogatory comments, plenty of language and the use of some unconventional ways of  getting information from criminals. The author's descriptions of the streets and businesses in the precinct were vivid.  

The mystery was a good one.  The reader wasn't given all the clues in order to solve it, but I found myself turning back pages to see if I missed something.  We were told that Burt tucked something into the back of his mind for use later and I was trying to guess what it was based on what he had been doing.  This was fun and kept me extra alert for any clues.  I was completely taken by surprise when it was solved. 

While I am glad I satisfied my curiosity by reading this book, I don't necessarily feel the need to read any more in the series.  If you enjoy police procedurals, this one is a classic.  

Monday, May 3, 2021

Book Review: Father Elijah: An Apocalypse by Michael D. O'Brien

Father Elijah: An Apocalypse (Children of the Last Days, #4)Father Elijah: An Apocalypse (Children of the Last Days #4). Michael D. O'Brien. Ignatius Press (1996). 597 pages. Genre: Fiction, Christian Fiction.

First Lines: "Brother Ass found Father Elijah in the onion garden. The old monk was hoeing, sweating under his straw bonnet, and the young brother felt a moment of pity for him."

Summary:  Father Elijah is a Carmelite monk at a monastery near Jerusalem.  Raised in Warsaw, he lived through the atrocities of World War II.  However, the rest of his family did not.  It was this suffering, combined with more difficulties in his adult life that brought him to the Catholic faith and to the life of a monk.  He has been quite content to live this life for the past twenty years, having never left the monastery. 

So, it is a bit unnerving when he is called into the world to assist the Pope.  He wonders why he was chosen and thinks there must be someone better equipped than he to carry out this mission.  When he is sent he really doesn't know what his mission is, except that it relates to archeology, a longstanding interest of his. When he finally meets with the Pope the mission is made clear.  There is a new President of Europe who is rapidly rising in power.  He has many followers and more each day.  The Pope has asked Elijah to warn him of his spiritual danger and attempt to convert him to the faith.  The President also has an interest in archeology and this will be the connection between the two of them.  The Pope realizes that the President only wants to use the Church as a way to gain more followers.  Elijah will meet the President to report on some new Dead Sea Scrolls that have been discovered.  It is a dangerous mission that could cost Elijah his life. 

My thoughts:  I generally avoid apocalyptic novels and those that far exceed 400 pages, so if a friend had not recommended this book I never would have picked it up.  However, I really enjoyed this novel and am so glad I chose to read it. 

Father Elijah is such an interesting character.  At first he seems like a typical monk who relishes solitude, work and the routines of daily life in a monastery.  He is definitely that person now, but as the story unfolds, we learn of his past and how he came to choose this life. He is very devout and often encourages other members of the cloth in their faith.  I loved all those things about him.  But, I equally loved the juxtaposition of Billy, his friend from his first days in the monastery.  Billy is nothing like what you would expect a monk to be.  He is very outgoing, dresses in fine clothes and drives a luxury car.  By looking at him you would never guess that he is a man of the cloth.  However, he is also very devout and intelligent.  He does important work for the Vatican and is especially suited to do it. Their mutual respect for one another is wonderful.

This book read like a thriller with lots of twists and turns.  There are murders and cover-ups and people not being who they seem to be.  Father Elijah communicates in code with more than one person.  He must meet in secret with others.  Someone is bugging offices and cars and other things. No where is safe. There were a couple of parts that did slow down a bit.   These sections were usually where Elijah was in a debate with someone about faith in God.  They may have been slower, but were rich in theology.  The author's clean writing style made it easy to read. 

I am not Catholic, but I enjoyed reading about the rituals of the church.  There was also a fair amount of WWII history involved as Father Elijah was a Holocaust survivor.  He traveled to Rome and Poland in the course of the story.  While in Poland, he visited the place he used to live, knowing it would have changed, but needing to see it anyway. I enjoyed the descriptions of the countryside in Italy.

I have not read any of the other novels in this series, but I didn't feel like I was missing anything.  Overall, this was a fascinating read. 

Quotes:

"'Also, among your many outstanding gifts you have the gift of humor.  You make me laugh.  I'm a serious person, you may have noticed.'

'I noticed that.  You're not exactly a funny guy, Davy.'

'You see, you can't help yourself.  You always say amusing things.  That is a gift from the Lord.  It lifts the heart.'"


"'I live here in this great city like a monachus, a solitary one.  I pray. I work. I put good books in the hands of the people.  Perhaps good thoughts are born in their minds. That is my calling.'"


Saturday, May 1, 2021

April Reading Wrap-Up

 


Many mornings when I open the curtains on my sliding glass door, this is what I see.  The deer have been enjoying the crab apples that have fallen to the ground.  At times there have been as many as five deer in our backyard.  

Spring continues to unfurl and it has been lovely to watch.  The weather has been very spring-like with some rain, some clouds and some sun.  

Our oldest son will be getting married near the end of May.  We are looking forward to this blessed event and praying for good weather.  The ceremony will be held outside under a canopy of pine trees, with the reception being held at the same location under a pavilion.  

As far as reading goes, it has been a pretty good month!  I read 9 books in April.  Here's the breakdown:

Christian Fiction/Romance: 2
Cozy Mystery: 4
Mystery: 1
Historical Fiction: 1
Non-fiction: 1

Christian Fiction/Romance:

Boo (Boo #1)Boo by Rene Gutteridge - Skary, Indiana has made a name for itself by taking advantage of the fact that famous horror novelist, Wolfe Boone, lives in town.  Wolfe is a loner and doesn't know many people in town.  Ainsley Parker regrets that the town seems so enthralled with all things horror.  She imagines that Mr. Boone must be a terrible man and wishes he would make his home somewhere else.  When she learns that Wolfe has given his life to Christ and is giving up writing horror novels, she is skeptical, but as she gets to know him, she finds that there is more to Wolfe Boone than horror.

The Solid Grounds Coffee Company (The Supper Club, #3)The Solid Grounds Coffee Company by Carla Laureano - Professional climber Bryan Shaw has given up climbing and purchased a coffee farm in Columbia.  He returns to Denver to learn the art of roasting coffee beans and set up a roastery.  Ana Sanchez has been put on leave from her job at a publicity firm.  Bryan asks for her help in getting his new business up and running.  As Anna gets to know Bryan better, she realizes there is more to him than she suspected. 
Cozy Mystery:

Killer Kung Pao (A Noodle Shop Mystery, #6)Killer Kung Pao (Noodle Shop Mystery #6) by Vivien Chien - When a woman is electrocuted while having her nails done at the salon, Lana Lee uses her connections along with her detection skills to discover the killer's identity.

The Scent of Murder (Jazz Ramsey, #1)The Scent of Murder (Jazz Ramsey #1) by Kylie Logan - Jazz Ramsey spends her free time training human remains detection dogs.  One evening, while training a dog at an abandoned apartment building, she discovers the body of a young woman.  The woman is dressed in all-black and covered in thick white make-up.  As Jazz looks closer, she realizes she recognizes the woman. 

Here Comes the Body (Catering Hall Mystery #1)Here Comes the Body (Catering Hall Mystery #1) by Maria DiRico - Mia Carina returns to New York when her marriage ends. Her father has ties to the Mafia and has recently acquired a catering hall from a gambler who couldn't pay his debts.  He is determined to make catering his new career and Maria is going to help him.  Unfortunately, during their first event a woman is found murdered and the evidence is pointing to Mia's father as the killer.

A High-End Finish (Fixer-Upper Mystery, #1)A High-End Finish (Fixer-Upper Mystery #1) by Kate Carlisle - Shannon Hammer runs a successful construction business specializing in restoring Victorian homes. The day after a blind date gone wrong, Shannon stumbles over the body of her date at one of her construction sites.  Since the altercation she had with the man was witnessed by many, she is at the top of the suspect list. 






Mystery:

A Royal Affair (Sparks & Bainbridge Mystery #2)A Royal Affair (Sparks & Bainbridge #2) by Allison Montclair - Iris and Gwen are hired to vet Prince Philip for the royal family.  As they set out to learn something about the prince, they discover someone has been attempting to blackmail the royal family.  








Historical Fiction:

A Mosaic of WingsA Mosaic of Wings by Kimberly Duffy - Nora Shipley is attending the University in hopes of one day becoming an entomologist.  She is following in her deceased father's footsteps, whom she hopes to honor by her choice of career.  Life at home is strained as she and her step-father struggle to get along.  When she is offered an internship studying butterflies in India, she takes it hoping to win a scholarship to further her studies.  Unfortunately, her strong opinions and sharp tongue get her into trouble. 





Non-fiction:

My Family and Other Animals (Corfu Trilogy, #1)My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell - The author's recollection of his family's sojourn on the island of Corfu.  He was a young boy at the time and loved to collect and study animals. 









Other reading:

I am continuing to occasionally read a poem from One Hundred and One Famous Poems and am also doing a read/listen to The Iliad by Homer.

I hope April found you in the company of good books!

~ Gretchen


I am linking up with The Monthly Wrap-Up Round-Up hosted by Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction and Shannon @ It Starts at Midnight. 

Thursday, April 29, 2021

Book Review: A High-End Finish by Kate Carlisle

A High-End Finish (Fixer-Upper Mystery, #1)A High-End Finish (Fixer-Upper Mystery #1). Kate Carlisle. Obsidian (2014). 311 pages. Genre: Cozy Mystery.

First Line: "'You could've warned me that installing drywall would be hell on my manicure.'"

Summary:  Shannon Hammer runs a successful home-renovation and repair business that specializes in restoring Victorian homes. She has lived in Lighthouse Cove most of her life.  Like many small towns, everyone knows everyone else's business.  Shannon doesn't mind.  She sees it as part of the charm of living in a small town.  Shannon's good friend, Lizzie, is happily married and wants all of her friends to be too, so she routinely sets them up on blind dates.  Shannon finally succumbed to Lizzie's persistence and has agreed to meet Jerry Saxton for dinner.  After a nice dinner with good conversation, Jerry suggests a walk on the beach.  

After strolling along the beach for several minutes, Jerry's demeanor suddenly changes and he becomes aggressive.  He insists that Shannon owes him something since he paid for dinner.  Shannon disagrees and tries to fend him off.  When Jerry doesn't take "no" for an answer Shannon kicks him hard in the shin.  Fortunately, there are some people on the boardwalk not far away.  Shannon yells for help and finally two men come to her aid and lift Jerry up off the sand.  Shannon and Jerry continue to hurl insults at one another as the men attempt to drag Jerry from the beach.  The last thing Shannon says is, "I'll kill you if you ever come near me again."

After a fitful night of sleep, she gets a phone call from one of her clients.  He and his wife are out of town and a neighbor called them to let them know they could hear water running inside the residence.  The client asks Shannon if she could go check it out.  She goes immediately.  As she enters the house she hears the water running in the basement.  As she makes her way to the basement, she trips over something.  That something was the arm of a man - a dead man.  Unfortunately, that arm belongs to Jerry Saxton.  

My thoughts:  I really wanted to like this one.  I liked the idea of a charming lighthouse town filled with Victorian homes worked on by our protagonist.  However, I didn't find the town or the protagonist all that charming.

Shannon Hammer took over her father's business after he had a heart attack.  She is a hard worker, her employees respect her and she knows quite a bit about construction and restoration.  However, in her interactions with others she is crass and petty.  She often resorted to name-calling. This book contains more profanity than many cozies and much of it came from Shannon's mouth. This did nothing to endear her to me.  It wasn't until more than half-way through the book that I found myself liking her at all. 

The mystery itself had me curious.  I wondered who had killed Jerry and if his behavior with Shannon was an isolated incident or a regular practice.  As the story unfolded, there were several people who may have had a motive. I did pinpoint the culprit before Shannon and the police put things together. 

The one character that I did like as soon as he came on the scene was Mac.  He is an author who is new to town.  He is friendly, curious and goes out of his way to help Shannon.  

Unfortunately, this book wasn't for me and I won't be continuing the series.  However, other reviewers have enjoyed this book and the characters in it.  So, if it sounds intriguing to you, don't hesitate to give it a try.


Monday, April 26, 2021

Book Review: The Solid Grounds Coffee Company by Carla Laureano

The Solid Grounds Coffee Company (The Supper Club, #3)The Solid Grounds Coffee Company (The Supper Club #3). Carla Laureano. Tyndale House (2020). 432 pages. Genre: Contemporary Fiction, Christian Fiction, Romance. 

First Lines: Prologue: "By all accounts, Suesca was haunted.  From everything Bryan Shaw had seen, he believed it.  But for him, it wasn't the spirits of the dead that hovered over this small Colombian town.  It was the memory of the living."

Summary:  Bryan Shaw is a professional climber with a sponsorship.  That means he spends his time doing what he loves most without needing a day job to support himself.  As much as he loves traveling and climbing, he is beginning to realize that something is missing from his life.  Three years ago, he asked the woman he loved to marry him.  She said, "No".  Since that day, he has made one bad decision after another trying to fill the void in his life. He often thinks about Vivian and wonders what went wrong.  So, when she shows up unexpectedly in Suesca, Bryan is happy to see her. Unfortunately, his happiness is short lived.  After spending the night with him, Vivian reveals she is engaged to be married to Bryan's friend and CEO of his largest sponsor.  It is not long before his sponsorship is dropped and Bryan is without the means to make a living. A chance encounter in a bar leads Bryan to become a translator for a coffee import company that helps farmers shift from growing coca to growing coffee.  

Most would describe Ana Sanchez as beautiful, bold and efficient.  These traits come in handy in her work as crisis management associate at Denver's largest publicity firm.  She spends her days cleaning up messes and creating images for her high profile clients. She is good at what she does.  But when she makes the decision to involve the authorities in one of her client's situations, her boss decides she needs to take an extended leave of absence.  

When Bryan returns to Denver looking for a place to set up a coffee roastery, he asks Ana to help him out.  Ana has nothing better to do with her days, so she agrees to help Bryan.  He is the best friend of her best friend's fiancee.  Unfortunately, his reputation precedes him.  Ana is determined to keep her distance while helping him get his company going.  But, as she gets to know him better, she realizes that he has changed.  There is more to him than she has given him credit for.  

My thoughts:  This is the third book in the Supper Club series.  However, it could be read as a stand alone.  The Saturday Night Supper Club and Brunch at Bittersweet Cafe tell the stories of Ana's two best friends, Rachel and Melody.  You would miss their stories, but while they both make appearances in this book, you don't need to know their stories to enjoy this one. 

This was an interesting, multi-layered read.  One of the layers is the process of setting up a coffee roastery from scratch.  This involves finding a warehouse to house the roastery, obtaining a roaster, finding a supplier of good quality coffee beans, and then learning to roast the beans.  Once you have figured out all the nuances of roasting, you must market your product and figure out how to get it into the hands of customers. It is a complicated, intricate process that I enjoyed learning something about. I love to have a good cup of coffee in the morning, so I really appreciate all of the people and processes that make this possible! 

Another layer is the lives of Bryan and Ana.  Bryan is truly a good guy, with great parents, who was deeply hurt and didn't know how to deal with that.  He turned to a lifestyle of living loosely, hoping this would fill the void in his life.  What he found, however, is that he felt even emptier.  I appreciated the way he took responsibility for his actions and was willing to pay the consequences while also making better choices moving forward.  

Ana has a tender heart underneath her exterior of highly driven, perfectionist personality. She works hard to keep herself in shape, she is one of the best crisis management associates in her office, she always looks flawless.  The only time she slows down is when she occasionally gets together with her best friends for camaraderie and some kind of indulgent pastry.  While most would think she has it all together, she realizes she is trying to portray an image that may not truly be her.  I found her to be very relatable. 

The bulk of the story takes place in Denver.  The author gives us a glimpse into the hipster, foodie scene there.  I enjoyed this in the other two books as well.  Denver is another place I have never been, but feel like I have a sense of it after reading these novels.  Bryan and Ana take a trip to St. Louis, which is somewhere I have been, and it was fun to see some of the places I have visited through their eyes. 

The story takes several twists and turns, both in the roasting business and Bryan and Ana's personal lives, before the conclusion.  I have enjoyed all three books in the series.  If you enjoy flawed characters who try to live better lives, if you are looking for a contemporary story set in the US or you would like to learn something about the process of growing and roasting coffee, I recommend you give this book a try.


Thursday, April 22, 2021

Book Review: Here Comes the Body by Maria DiRico

Here Comes the Body (Catering Hall Mystery #1)Here Comes the Body (Catering Hall Mystery #1). Maria DiRico. Kensington (2020). 293 pages. Genre: Cozy Mystery.

First Line:  "At 6:45 A.M., Mia Carina woke up to Frank Sinatra singing 'New York, New York' from the alarm on her phone, a happy reminder that she was in Queens, not Florida, and no longer a 'person of interest' in her adulterous husband's disappearance."

Summary:  Mia Carina has returned to New York to help her father run a catering business.  Her father, Ravello Carina, received the catering hall from a gambler who couldn't pay his debts.  He has decided to try the catering business as a new career, rather than returning to the work he used to do for mob boss Donny Boldano.  

The first function the hall is catering is a bachelor party.  The groom's friend has hired a DJ as well as a large cake with a surprise.  When the cake is rolled out to the party, they receive a surprise indeed.  When the expected woman doesn't jump out of the cake, someone takes a look inside.  There is definitely a woman in there, but she has been stabbed.  That is not the surprise the friend of the bachelor had in mind, but it also isn't the woman he had expected to see.  Instead, the woman who has been stabbed is someone who had been at the catering hall the day before accusing Ravello of owing her money.  Did Ravello take revenge on her?  Or is someone trying to set him up?

My thoughts:  When I first saw reviews for this book I didn't think I would be interested.  There were just some things that I thought might not be for me.  But, as I continued to see positive reviews for the book and the second one in the series, I changed my mind.  Unfortunately, this one fell flat for me.  

As I read the book I got the feeling that I had been dropped into the middle of a conversation.  Something was going on, but I didn't have the whole story.  Also, the characters felt a bit two dimensional.  I just didn't warm up to them.  The humor wasn't funny to me.  Maybe that is because I am from the Midwest and I don't get Queens humor, but I don't think so.  The characters felt over-the-top and not genuine. 

However, the mystery was good.  There were plenty of suspects who would want revenge on Ravello Carina.  But, there is also the idea that Ravello is/was a mobster and his own daughter doesn't know what to believe. I was kept guessing until the killer was revealed.  When things were wrapped up, it all made sense. 

Even with the good mystery, I will not be reading the rest of the series. Other reviewers have really enjoyed this series, especially because it is unique for a cozy mystery with the mob influence.  If this sounds interesting to you, give it a try.  


Tuesday, April 20, 2021

The Bookworm's Tag: #BookTagTuesday

 

I was tagged by Kathy @katiescottagebooks.wordpress.com.  Thanks Kathy! 

The Rules:

*Thank and link to the blogger who nominated you.

*Include the tag graphic in your post.

*Answer the ten questions the blogger asked.

*Nominate between five and ten bloggers.

*Ask your nominees ten book-related questions!

*Don't feel bound to these rules.

*(Most importantly) Have fun!

Questions: 

1.) Have you ever read a book that kept you awake at night with a light on? What was the title of the book?

I have a hard time staying awake past my bedtime regardless of how good a book is!  

2.) Have you read a book that made you jump and toss the book in the air? What was the title of the book?

Hmm..., I don't recall having that reaction to a book.  But, when I was in high school I was working at a dry cleaner and was in the store by myself.  During down times I was reading Misery by Stephen King.  That was not the best book to read alone in a large dry cleaning store.  That was also the last horror book I read.  

3.) How many bookmarks do you own?

Maybe around 20.  When my kids were small they would make me bookmarks.  I have kept many of those.  Often they contained a little note to me.  It is so sweet to read them now that they are all grown up.  I also have some that I have made.  These are paper bookmarks usually with stamped designs on them.  And I have bookmarks that others have made for me.  The one I use in the current book I am reading was crocheted by my mom.  

4.) Do you have a little free library in your area? Did you ever get a book from said library, read it and enjoy it thoroughly?

I have several Little Free Libraries on my walking routes.  I usually only take books from them that I know I want to read.  I have enjoyed most of them.

5.) What was the name of the last book you read, that excited you so much, you still talk about it?

God's Hotel by Victoria Sweet

6.) Did an antagonist ever cause you to rant and rave? Who?

I don't recall a particular one.

7.) Has there been a character who caused you to cry out in disbelief? Who?

That is a really good question.  I wish I could think of someone.

8.) Do you have a favorite animal in a book you’ve read? Who and what book?

I loved Tricki Woo in the All Creatures Great and Small series by James Herriot.  I also liked Misty in Misty of Chincoteague by Marguerite Henry.

9.) Do you enjoy romantic comedy?

Occasionally.  Especially after a heavy book.

10.) Favorite non-fiction?

ESV New Inductive Study Bible.

I also like memoirs.  A couple of favorites from the last couple of years are God's Hotel by Victoria Sweet and Brain on Fire by Susannah Cahalan.

Well, there you have it.

I am choosing to not be bound by the rules by not tagging anyone.  However, if you think it would be fun to answer these questions, consider yourself tagged!