Jest and Die by Stella Whitelaw

PI Jordan Lacey’s next assignments have her up a tree carrying out nightly surveillance, and protecting a handsome comedian from a female stalker. When she accidentally unearths an international crime racket, the situation gets too dangerous, even for Jordan.

Even though I generally read dark books, I also love cozies.  They’re a great way to spend a Sunday afternoon.  Jest and Die was the perfect example of this.  It’s a murder mystery that begins with a comical premise.  Someone is poisoning Mr. Steel’s garden, so he hires P.I. Jordan Lacey to investigate.

Things spiral downhill from there as Jordan has many mishaps in trying to figure out who the culprit is.  Then entertainer George the Jester enters the picture, bringing further chaos.  This book is simply fun.  The sea coast setting is also great, and now I wish I could travel to England to visit there.

Jordan is a terrific main character.  She’s funny and smart and able to get out of a tight situation by using her wits.  Unfortunately, she is a bit of a Mary Sue with every man she meets falling all over her.  The notable exception to this is D.I. James who remains glacially distant while Jordan moons over him from afar.

I hadn’t realized that this book was part of a series, nor did I know that it was a re-issue of an older book.  I’m not sure that I would have picked it up had I known these things, but I was able to follow along for the most part.

The one thing that prevented a full five-star rating was a very strange turn of events in the middle of the book.  A major character has a tragic accident.  This comes out of nowhere and is never fully explained.  For about three pages, everyone is devastated, then its back to business as usual.  I was really put off by that.  I found myself searching the first part of the book for clues as to what on earth had happened!  While this didn’t spoil the book, it did make me shake my head.

Otherwise, Jest and Die is an extremely fun book, and I highly recommend it to those who enjoy a good, cozy mystery.

Thanks to NetGalley and Endeavor Press for the review copy.

Book Haul from Netgalley

 

I woke up to find three, new books on my Netgalley shelf.  It was like Christmas morning!

The first one is Don’t Say a Word by A. L. Bird.  Here’s the blurb: A happy child.

Every parent knows the world can be scary. Lawyer Jen Sutton knows it better than most. And she’ll go to any length to protect her son from what – and who – lies outside their front door.

A loving mother.

Some might say she’s being over-protective. But isn’t it a mother’s duty to protect her child from harm?

A family built on a lie.

Jen has kept her secrets safe. Until the postcard arrives, signed by the one person she hoped would never catch up with her… and her new case begins to feel a little too close to home.

One thing is clear: Jen has been found.

Now, she faces a choice. Run, and lose everything? Or fight – and risk her son discovering the truth.

Why I picked it:  I am a sucker for these family secret stories and also stories about mothers who will protect their children at any cost.  I like the cover, too, because it’s so foreboding.  Can’t wait to delve into it.

Next up is Two Sisters by Kerry Wilkinson.  Here’s the blurb: They told us he had been missing for nearly two days, that he probably drowned. They told us a lie.

Megan was ten years old when her older brother, Zac, went missing among the cliffs, caves and beaches that surround the small seaside town of Whitecliff.

A decade later and a car crash has claimed the lives of her parents.

Megan and her younger sister Chloe return to Whitecliff one summer for the first time since their brother’s disappearance. Megan says it’s to get her parents’ affairs in order. There are boxes to pack, junk to clear, a rundown cottage to sell. But that’s not the real reason.

Megan has come to confront her family’s past after receiving a postcard on the day of her parents’ funeral. It had a photograph of Whitecliff on the front and a single letter on the back.

‘Z’ is all it read.

Z for Zac.

Why I picked it: Once again, this is a family mystery book not to mention a missing child book.  The cover is nice and creepy as well.  It almost puts me in a Stephen King frame of mind.  Not horror necessarily (this one’s labeled as a mystery & thriller), but that dark, edge of your seat kind of read.

The last one is Jest and Die by Stella Whitelaw.  Here’s the blurb: When it is discovered that somebody is poisoning Samuel Steel’s beloved hill-top garden, PI Jordan Lacey is called to investigate.

But what starts out as a relatively straightforward case soon takes a sinister turn when Steel’s wife, Anne, is found brutally murdered – with a pair of garden shears stuck in her neck.

Meanwhile, Jordan is approached with another case, involving stand-up comedian George Hill, who claims that he is being stalked by an unknown woman.

When Hill is found hanged in his dressing-room, Jordan is faced with a second mysterious death on her hands.

With the bodies piling up, it seems that the seaside town of Latching may not be as serene as it appears.

Jordan’s search for the truth leads to the inadvertent discovery of an international crime ring – and a killer with a very personal vendetta…

I didn’t realize this book was part of a series when I asked for it, but I’m not bothered when I start a series from the middle.  The cover to this one has a cozy feel, and I think I’ll need something less intense after the other two I’ve picked.  Also, the idea of a stand-up comedian as part of the story appeals to me as well.

So there you have it – my little book haul.  Now, on to go read…

 

My Book Obsession Has a Name

 

No, this is not my actual bookshelf.

The Japanese call it tsundoku – the stockpiling of books.  According to a recent article in The Huffington Post, the term combines the words “tsunde” (meaning “to stack things”), “oku” (meaning “to leave for a while”) and “doku” (meaning “to read”).

I can completely relate because I am a book hoarder.

My ‘to-be-read’ cookie jar

Currently, I have over 700 unread book on my Kindle.  700!!  Yet, somehow, I am always collecting more.  I have everything from classics to romance to mysteries to comic books.  My book club laughs at me for this hoarding habit and always wants to know what my current tally is.  I also keep a ‘To-be-read’ cookie jar in my kitchen, so if I’m not sure what to read, I can pick a title from there.

My need to stockpile books has always been at odds with my need to be a minimalist.  For years, I would accumulate books – from used book sales, garage sales, and bookstores – and then organize them on my shelves.  My husband even built bookcases to line the walls of our family room, yet there was never enough space.  So thank God for my Kindle.  I can hoard til my heart’s content (which it never will be).

 

The Breakdown by B. A. Paris

31450633In The BreakdownCass, a newly married teacher, drives down a deserted road in the middle of a thunderstorm and sees a young woman pulled off to the side of the road. The next day, she hears that the woman was murdered. Plagued with guilt for not stopping to help, Cass begins to worry that she’s losing her mind.

The scariest part of this book, in my opinion, was the idea of someone quickly slipping into dementia. When reading, I put myself in Cass’s place and wondered how I would cope with forgetting how to run the washing machine or trying to remember whether or not I’d taken my pills. It would be terrifying to be sure.

Unfortunately, the book moves very slowly, and Cass is not much of a heroine. Instead of working to find out the mystery of who killed the motorist, she hides in her house for most of the book. There are long sequences involving mysterious phone calls; phone calls that leave Cass debilitated with fear. At times, I wanted to shout, “Just unplug the phone!” I wish Cass would have done some sleuthing and not give up so easily!

The book eventually picked up, but not until the very end. There was a satisfying conclusion; however, it came across as rushed.

Overall, the ending did make the book worth reading, but I would have liked more forward action in the middle.

Binge-Watching Netflix, Hulu, and Other Sites

What I like to watch on TV when I’m not reading.

I love fiction no matter what shape it takes.  I enjoy books, TV, movies, even old radio plays.  (Many thanks to my mother for giving me a series of cassette tapes of science fiction radio shows of the 50’s.  They were essential for enduring our long-distance family vacations.)  No matter what the medium, I’m addicted to compelling plots and interesting characters.  Here are a few of the shows that I’ve been following.

downloadThe OA.  This Netflix original follows Prairie, a young, blind woman who went missing for seven years.  To her parents’ amazement, not only does Prairie return home, but she’s gotten her eyesight back as well.  Prairie’s story of her missing, seven years is remarkable.  So amazing, in fact, that she only shares it with a small group of mismatched people.  Although it was a little slow to start, once I got hooked on this show, I couldn’t stop watching.  If you liked Stranger Things, then you might enjoy this one as well.

How to Get Away With Murder.  (Hulu) I used to have a bias against network TV shows because I thought they weren’t as creative or entertaining as the more complex shows on FX and AMC.  Not any more!  HtGAwM is a complicated, fascinating who-done-it that revolves around a very flawed character, Annalise Keating.  (Played by one of my favorite actresses, Viola Davis.)  If you enjoyed shows like House, give this one a try.download (1)

Homeland. (Showtime). I never thought that an espionage series would hook me, but this show drew me in from the beginning.  A captured Marine is returned to the U.S. and is welcomed as a hero.  However, CIA agent Carrie Mathison thinks that he is really a spy.  This is a series that will leave you guessing!  Claire Danes portrays another flawed hero, but she’s tough and smart and persistent.  Boy, is she persistent!

The Americans. (Amazon Prime) This is another espionage series.  It takes place in the 1980’s and follows two Russian agents who are embedded in middle-class America.  To make them blend into their surroundings, the agents wedownloadre required to get married and have a family.  There is a lot of tension in this series as the parents go to great lengths to hide their real professions from their children.  The plot can be a little complicated at times, but I’m on the edge of my seat as I watch each episode.

Don’t Wake Up by Liz Lawler

Don’t Wake Up is a dark, intense mystery full of interesting characters and startling situations.

Dr. Alex Taylor wakes up in an operating room tied to a hospital gurney where a masked man threatens to perform a very painful, unethical surgery on her.  When she wakes up, no one believes her story.  Was she imagining the whole thing?

Don’t Wake Up begins with one of the most harrowing scenes that I could imagine.  I still shudder to think of it.  Luckily, the author handles it with a measure of restraint, avoiding what could have been a very gory situation.  The rest of the book is fairly tame with one notable exception: a small animal is needlessly and cruelly tortured.  That bothered me quite a bit.

The book begins with a bang, but slows down after that.  I wish that things had sped up a little since there was a large focus on Alex’s internal turmoil and little on external events that would have kept the story moving.  At the end, things picked up speed again, and I was once more glued to the pages.

There are three, major story lines that come together in the end, and I like how the author weaves the stories together.  There isn’t any confusion on who is who, and I liked that there were several, possible suspects.  At times, the credibility was stretched a little too far, yet I couldn’t guess the ending which is always nice in a mystery.

Overall, this was an enjoyable book.

What’s in my TBR Pile

I collect books like a quilting friend of mine collects fabrics.  (Although, to be honest, I’m a quilter, too, and have a pretty significant stash…)  Anyway, after browsing several blogs, I’ve found a couple of books that really grabbed my interest.

The first one is Dancers in the Wind by Anne Coates.  I discovered the book from By the Letter Book Reviews, and I can’t wait to read it.

From the blurb: “Freelance journalist and single mother Hannah Webridge is commissioned by a national newspaper to write an investigative article on the notorious red light district in Kings Cross. There she meets prostitute Princess, and police inspector in the vice squad, Tom Jordan. When Princess later arrives on her doorstep”beaten up so badly she is barely recognizable, Hannah has to make some tough decisions and is drawn ever deeper into the world of deceit and violence. Three sex workers are murdered, their deaths covered up in a media blackout, and Hannah herself is under threat. As she comes to realize that the taste for vice reaches into the higher echelons of the great and the good, Hannah must expose the truth—and stay alive.”

The second book is Watching the Bodies by Graham Smith.  I thank Clues and Reviews for bringing this one to my attention.  What I like is that it appears to be part of a series, but it has gotten good reviews so far.

Here’s the blurb: “When Jake Boulder is asked by his PI friend to help investigate the vicious murder of Kira Niemeyer, he soon finds himself tracking a serial killer who selects his next victim in a most unusual manner.

As the body count rises, Boulder has to work with the police to identify the heinous killer before more lives are taken. What ensues is a twisted game of cat and mouse, that only Boulder or the Watcher can survive. But who will it be?”

My Spring Playlist

Music that I’m currently listening to.

I can’t work without listening to music, and over the past, few months, I’ve been introduced to some new artists and songs.  I thought I’d share them here via Spotify.


I tend to like electronica and jazz; although, I’m open to pretty much anything.  What have you all been listening to?  I’d be curious to find out.

Hulu Tackles Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale

Is the Hulu version of the Handmaid’s Tale as good as the original?

Last fall, I taught Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novel, The Handmaid’s Tale, to a class of community college students.  I hadn’t picked the book myself, and I was curious on how this very diverse class would react.  When I first saw the movie and then read the book back in the 1990’s, I thought it was prophetic.  Would they?

Many of them did.  A few wrote papers on how today’s political climate, whether in the U.S. or in other countries, reflected some of the ideas put forward in the book.  It was sad to see that, in many respects, the world hasn’t changed much from what it was when the book was first published.

I saw the movie The Handmaid’s Tale before I read the book, and it shocked me.  I showed the same, 1990 version to my class, and it shocked them as well.  It’s an intense movie.  Quiet, but intense.  To me, the movie complimented the book very well, so when I found out about the Hulu mini-series, I wasn’t sure they could improve.

Turns out, they did and didn’t improve on the 1990 movie.  Stretching out a story that’s, on the surface, very simple slows down the plot.  Compacted into two hours, the movie is more interesting.  I also liked the original cast, especially Faye Dunaway and Robert Duvall.  Not that there’s anything wrong with the new cast (I especially like Samira Wiley as Moira).  I suppose that it’s just what you get used to.

The original movie doesn’t shy away from the brutal scenes depicted in the book, but it didn’t overplay its hand, either.  I had worried that the Hulu version would ramp up the gory scenes, but luckily, that has yet to happen.  (Not that either should have anything less than an R rating.)  Who knows, though.  I suspect the series will get more intense as it moves further along.

What I like best about the new treatment of the book, however, is Offred’s attitude.  Many of my students didn’t like Offred in either the book or the movie since they thought she was too meek and didn’t do enough to get away from her situation.  The new Offred is sharper and not as willing to give in.  My favorite bit from the Hulu series are the subtle, yet humorous, exchanges between Offred and Nick, the Commander’s driver.  The old Offred wouldn’t have risked something like that.

I’ve enjoyed the Hulu series thus far.  The first three installments have been very interesting.  They deviate from the original story, but the differences add a lot.  I’m looking forward to seeing the rest of it.

Dark Chapter by Winnie M. Li

When Vivian goes hiking alone in an unfamiliar part of Belfast, she meets 15-year-old Johnny and her life is never the same afterwards

I really struggled with Dark Chapter and how to rate it. Usually, I rate a book according to how much I enjoyed it, but this book was not an enjoyable read. In fact, it should come with a warning that it contains intense images of rape and violence. Not that it is a voyeuristic or lurid novel. Far from it. Dark Chapter is an intense, gritty drama about one woman’s journey from victim to hero. Still, it’s not my typical read, and I think it was mislabeled by the publisher as a mystery/thriller.

I’m not one to give out five-star reviews on a whim. Books must earn that rating. What made this book a five-star was its amazing writing. It’s stark style works well with the subject matter. Li draws the reader into the story and doesn’t let her go. Dark Chapter is a compelling story, and I couldn’t put it down. I was rooting for the heroine the entire time.

This book offers an unflinching view of an unspeakable crime. It won’t be for every reader, but it is definitely a novel of great worth.