30. June 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Adult Books, Fiction, Leslie, Mystery

Murder on Astor Place by Victoria Thompson, 278 pages, read by Leslie, on 06/29/2014

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Sprinkled with fascinating details of turn-of-the-century New York City, Thompson’s old-fashioned mystery takes the reader from the mansions of Fifth Avenue to the flophouses of the Lower East Side. Sarah Brandt is a midwife who has been estranged from her wealthy family for years. When Alicia VanDamm, a young woman from a prominent family, is murdered, Sarah must return to the upper-class society she has scorned to find the killer. Haunted by her past and disgusted by police department corruption, Sarah takes it upon herself to avenge the girl’s death.

In keeping with the murder theme of the month and always looking for writers new to me, I took this from someone’s read list to give it a try.  I enjoyed how the author immerses the reader in the New York City of old, before subways and such, I love research that draws you in.  Sarah, a young widow, finds herself drawn back to the rich society she grew up in, in order to help Malloy solve the murder of a young girl she once knew.  I loved the richness of the characters and the imagery of the city  and how society used to work, that the author weaves together. Although I started to suspect who might have committed the murder, I was wrong about who and why. I would recommend this to anyone who enjoys a good murder, with none of the gore.

30. June 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Adult Books, Fiction, Leslie, Mystery

Murder on the Orient Espresso by Sandra Balzo, 200 pages, read by Leslie, on 06/27/2014

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It’s November and Maggy Thorsen, co-owner of the Wisconsin gourmet coffeehouse, Uncommon Grounds, is in South Florida at an annual crime-writers’ conference with her beau, local sheriff Jake Pavlik, who is due to speak as a ‘forensics expert’.

Maggy’s pledge to behave solely as a tourist becomes trickier than she anticipated when the conference’s opening night event turns out to be a re-enactment of Agatha Christie’s classic, Murder on the Orient Express. As Maggy and Jake reluctantly set off on the night train to the Everglades to solve the ‘crime’, it’s clear that, as in the original novel, nothing is quite what it seems. And amidst rumours of careers taken, manuscripts stolen and vows broken, it seems that in the Everglades – as in life – the predator all too often becomes the prey.

You would think that getting away from the coffee house would give poor Maggy a break from all those murders, but no, they just keep following her around.  This time, no one in her town becomes one of the victims.  After one of the train’s occupants is found outside the train, but inside a rock python, Maggy and Jake team up to save as much information as they can for the authorities, assuming they ever get back to civilization.  And no, I did not guess the murderer until the reveal, and even then the outcome was different than her other books.  For once, Maggy is not really on the list of possible victims, although she may think so.  Love these books and hoping she comes out with more!

30. June 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Adult Books, Fiction, Leslie, Mystery

Triple Shot by Sandra Balzo, 201 pages, read by Leslie, on 06/25/2014

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There’s a chill in the Wisconsin air, and it’s a shot in the arm – a triple espresso shot – to Uncommon Grounds, the Brookhills coffeehouse owned by Maggy Thorsen and real estate maven Sarah Kingston. Their new autumn drink is a huge success. But two estate agents have died lately, and Sarah herself is under investigation for irregularities at her job. Then a stench begins to percolate through the coffeehouse, and soon it’s clear that corpses – like other bad things – do indeed come in threes.

Unbeknownst to Sarah and Maggy, there is a hidden room under their train station coffee house.  What begins as a thought that the foul odor emanating through the shop is a dead animal under the floor, it turns into a dead body stashed in the bathroom of the hidden room.  Used by Mafia members and with connections to the family of their friend Tien, they are set upon by a tv show host hoping for a comeback, ala John Stossel.  When another murdered real estate agent shows up, Maggy is worried for her partner Sarah, but she ends up being the one to discover the truth and the real killer.  Once again, until revealed, Balzo keeps her murderer under wraps!

30. June 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Adult Books, Fiction, Leslie, Mystery

A Cup of Jo by Sandra Balzo, 188 pages, read by Leslie, on 06/23/2014

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Maggy Thorsen’s heart, uncharacteristically, is swelling with optimism. Sure, her original Wisconsin coffeehouse, Uncommon Grounds, was destroyed in a freak blizzard. But, with new business partner Sarah Kingston, she’s found the perfect place to relocate to – a quaint railroad station that will soon be revitalized by a new commuter-rail connection. Sarah and Maggy hope that the station’s ‘Dedication Day’ will provide great free publicity. But their dream turns into a nightmare when the event manager makes her grand appearance on the day.

It’s Dedication Day for the new commuter line and the new Uncommon Grounds and wouldn’t you know it, Maggy finds herself immersed in a murder before the coffee house evens opens for the day!  I love the way Balzo writes, she doesn’t waste too many words going over past happenings in her books and she always manages to keep the reader guessing till the end about who dunnit.  This time, I did suspect who but not why.

30. June 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Adult Books, Fiction, Leslie, Mystery

From the Grounds Up by Sandra Balzo, 184 pages, read by Leslie, on 06/20/2014

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When Maggy Thorsen’s coffee house, Uncommon Grounds, is virtually obliterated by a snowstorm, she and her friend Sarah resolve to reopen – and Maggy’s found the perfect spot near the train station, just in time for the opening of the new commuter route. But when Sarah’s uncle dies suddenly, in the first of a series of ‘accidents’, it’s clear that someone doesn’t want Uncommon Grounds to reopen.

After having her first coffee house demolished by snow and her last remaining partner wanting to get out of the business, Maggy isn’t sure what to do.  In steps her friend Sarah, with not only a building for her but a business proposition.  With what seem to be accidents happening around them, Maggy and Sarah continue to plan, unaware of who is behind the accidents until it’s almost too late.  Another good, quick read, I can’t put them down!

30. June 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Adult Books, Fiction, Leslie, Mystery

Brewed, Crude and Tattooed by Sandra Balzo, 188 pages, read by Leslie, on 06/19/2014

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Maggy Thorsen, co-owner of the Brookhills coffee-house Uncommon Grounds, is trapped in a shopping mall by a snow storm which cuts the electricity and phone lines. She finds the body of Way Benson, a local developer and owner of the mall. Maggy’s discovery unearths other refugees of the storm and it seems that more than one of these people has a motive for killing the arrogant Way. Then there is another murder.

Another great Maggy Thorsen mystery!  As a late snowstorm traps Maggy and her mall neighbors together, they discover the body of the owner of the mall and all wonder who could have killed the man, with lots of potential suspects.  The mall is getting ready to be sold, unbeknownst to Maggy, and she works on her list to narrow down the killer.  A quick read, Balzo keeps you wondering till the end.

30. June 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Madeline, Memoirs, NonFiction

Priceless: How I Went Undercover to Rescue the World's Stolen Treasures by Robert K. Wittman, John Shiffman, 324 pages, read by Madeline, on 06/29/2014

The Wall Street Journal called him “a living legend.” The London Timesdubbed him “the most famous art detective in the world.”
 
In Priceless, Robert K. Wittman, the founder of the FBI’s Art Crime Team, pulls back the curtain on his remarkable career for the first time, offering a real-life international thriller to rival The Thomas Crown Affair.   
 
Rising from humble roots as the son of an antique dealer, Wittman built a twenty-year career that was nothing short of extraordinary. He went undercover, usually unarmed, to catch art thieves, scammers, and black market traders in Paris and Philadelphia, Rio and Santa Fe, Miami and Madrid.
 
In this page-turning memoir, Wittman fascinates with the stories behind his recoveries of priceless art and antiquities: The golden armor of an ancient Peruvian warrior king. The Rodin sculpture that inspired the Impressionist movement. The headdress Geronimo wore at his final Pow-Wow. The rare Civil War battle flag carried into battle by one of the nation’s first African-American regiments.
 
The breadth of Wittman’s exploits is unmatched: He traveled the world to rescue paintings by Rockwell and Rembrandt, Pissarro, Monet and Picasso, often working undercover overseas at the whim of foreign governments. Closer to home, he recovered an original copy of the Bill of Rights and cracked the scam that rocked the PBS series Antiques Roadshow.
 
By the FBI’s accounting, Wittman saved hundreds of millions of dollars worth of art and antiquities. He says the statistic isn’t important. After all, who’s to say what is worth more –a Rembrandt self-portrait or an American flag carried into battle? They’re both priceless. 
 
The art thieves and scammers Wittman caught run the gamut from rich to poor, smart to foolish, organized criminals to desperate loners.  The smuggler who brought him a looted 6th-century treasure turned out to be a high-ranking diplomat.  The appraiser who stole countless heirlooms from war heroes’ descendants was a slick, aristocratic con man.  The museum janitor who made off with locks of George Washington’s hair just wanted to make a few extra bucks, figuring no one would miss what he’d filched.
 
In his final case, Wittman called on every bit of knowledge and experience in his arsenal to take on his greatest challenge: working undercover to track the vicious criminals behind what might be the most audacious art theft of all. 

30. June 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Adult Books, Fiction, Madeline, Mystery, Thriller/Suspense

Suspicion by Joseph Finder, 387 pages, read by Madeline, on 06/25/2014

When single father Danny Goodman suddenly finds himself unable to afford the private school his teenage daughter adores, he has no one to turn to for financial support.

In what seems like a stroke of brilliant luck, Danny meets Thomas Galvin, the father of his daughter’s new best friend, who also happens to be one of the wealthiest men in Boston. Galvin is aware of Danny’s situation and out of the blue offers a $50,000 loan to help Danny cover his daughter’s tuition. Uncomfortable but desperate, Danny takes the money, promising to pay Galvin back.

What transpires is something Danny never imagined. The moment the money is wired into his account, the DEA comes knocking on his door. Danny’s impossible choice: an indictment for accepting drug money that he can’t afford to fight in court, or an unthinkably treacherous undercover assignment helping the government get close to his new family friend.

As Danny begins to lie to everyone in his life, including those he loves most in the world, he must decide once and for all who the real enemy is or risk losing everything—and everyone—that matters to him.

30. June 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Autobiographies, Madeline, Memoirs, NonFiction

Let's Just Say It Wasn't Pretty by Diane Keaton, 192 pages, read by Madeline, on 06/21/2014

From Academy Award winner and bestselling author Diane Keaton comes a candid, hilarious, and deeply affecting look at beauty, aging, and the importance of staying true to yourself—no matter what anyone else thinks.
 
Diane Keaton has spent a lifetime coloring outside the lines of the conventional notion of beauty. In Let’s Just Say It Wasn’t Pretty, she shares the wisdom she’s accumulated through the years as a mother, daughter, actress, artist, and international style icon. This is a book only Diane Keaton could write—a smart and funny chronicle of the ups and downs of living and working in a world obsessed with beauty.
 
In her one-of-a-kind voice, Keaton offers up a message of empowerment for anyone who’s ever dreamed of kicking back against the “should”s and “supposed to”s that undermine our pursuit of beauty in all its forms. From a mortifying encounter with a makeup artist who tells her she needs to get her eyes fixed to an awkward excursion to Victoria’s Secret with her teenage daughter, Keaton shares funny and not-so-funny moments from her life in and out of the public eye. 
 
For Diane Keaton, being beautiful starts with being true to who you are, and in this book she also offers self-knowing commentary on the bold personal choices she’s made through the years: the wide-brimmed hats, outrageous shoes, and all-weather turtlenecks that have made her an inspiration to anyone who cherishes truly individual style—and catnip to paparazzi worldwide. She recounts her experiences with the many men in her life—including Warren Beatty, Jack Nicholson, Al Pacino, and Sam Shepard—shows how our ideals of beauty change as we age, and explains why a life well lived may be the most beautiful thing of all. 
 
Wryly observant and as fiercely original as Diane Keaton herself, Let’s Just Say It Wasn’t Pretty is a head-turner of a book that holds up a mirror to our beauty obsessions—and encourages us to like what we see.

30. June 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Adult Books, Contemporary Fiction, Fiction, Madeline

Lean on Pete by Willy Vlautin, 304 pages, read by Madeline, on 06/18/2014

Fifteen-year-old Charley Thompson wants a home, food on the table, and a high school he can attend for more than part of a year. But as the son of a single father working in warehouses across the Pacific Northwest, Charley’s been pretty much on his own. When tragic events leave him homeless weeks after their move to Portland, Oregon, Charley seeks refuge in the tack room of a run-down horse track. Charley’s only comforts are his friendship with a failing racehorse named Lean on Pete and a photograph of his only known relative. In an increasingly desperate circumstance, Charley will head east, hoping to find his aunt who had once lived a thousand miles away in Wyoming — but the journey to find her will be a perilous one.

In Vlautin’s third novel, Lean on Pete, he reveals the lives and choices of American youth like Charley Thompson who were failed by those meant to protect them and who were never allowed the chance to just be a kid.

30. June 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Informational Book, Madeline, NonFiction

Let's Talk About Love: A Journey to the End of Taste by Carl Wilson, 176 pages, read by Madeline, on 06/15/2014

Non-fans regard Céline Dion as ersatz and plastic, yet to those who love her, no one could be more real, with her impoverished childhood, her (creepy) manager-husband’s struggle with cancer, her knack for howling out raw emotion. There’s nothing cool about Céline Dion, and nothing clever. That’s part of her appeal as an object of love or hatred with most critics and committed music fans taking pleasure (or at least geeky solace) in their lofty contempt. This book documents Carl Wilson’s brave and unprecedented year-long quest to find his inner Céline Dion fan, and explores how we define ourselves in the light of what we call good and bad, what we love and what we hate.

30. June 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Adult Books, Fiction, Madeline, Mystery

Providence Rag by Bruce DeSilva, 352 pages, read by Madeline, on 06/12/2014

Edgar Award-winner Bruce DeSilva returns with Liam Mulligan, an old-school investigative reporter for a dying newspaper in Providence, Rhode Island.  Mulligan knows every street and alley, every priest and prostitute, every cop and street thug. He knows the mobsters and politicians—who are pretty much one and the same.   

Inspired by a true story, Providence Rag finds Mulligan, his pal Mason, and the newspaper they both work for at an ethical crossroad. The youngest serial killer in history butchered five of his neighbors before he was old enough to drive. When he was caught eighteen years ago, Rhode Island’s antiquated criminal statutes—never intended for someone like him—required that all juveniles, no matter their crimes, be released at age twenty-one. The killer is still behind bars, serving time for crimes supposedly committed on the inside. That these charges were fabricated is an open secret; but nearly everyone is fine with it—if the monster ever gets out more people will surely die. But Mason is not fine with it. If officials can get away with framing this killer they could do it to anybody. As Mason sets out to prove officials are perverting the  justice system, Mulligan searches frantically for some legal way to keep the monster behind bars. The dueling investigations pit the friends against each other in a high-stakes race against time—and snares them in an ethical dilemma that has no right answer.

Providence Rag is a gripping novel of suspense by one of the rising talents in the mystery field.

30. June 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Madeline, Memoirs, NonFiction

Sous Chef: 24 Hours on the Line by Michael Gibney, 240 pages, read by Madeline, on 06/05/2014

The back must slave to feed the belly. . . . In this urgent and unique book, chef Michael Gibney uses twenty-four hours to animate the intricate camaraderie and culinary choreography in an upscale New York restaurant kitchen. Here readers will find all the details, in rapid-fire succession, of what it takes to deliver an exceptional plate of food—the journey to excellence by way of exhaustion.

Told in second-person narrative, Sous Chef is an immersive, adrenaline-fueled run that offers a fly-on-the-wall perspective on the food service industry, allowing readers to briefly inhabit the hidden world behind the kitchen doors, in real time. This exhilarating account provides regular diners and food enthusiasts alike a detailed insider’s perspective, while offering fledgling professional cooks an honest picture of what the future holds, ultimately giving voice to the hard work and dedication around which chefs have built their careers.

In a kitchen where the highest standards are upheld and one misstep can result in disaster, Sous Chef conjures a greater appreciation for the thought, care, and focus that go into creating memorable and delicious fare. With grit, wit, and remarkable prose, Michael Gibney renders a beautiful and raw account of this demanding and sometimes overlooked profession, offering a nuanced perspective on the craft and art of food and service.

30. June 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Adult Books, Fiction, Melody, Romance, Thriller/Suspense

One last breath by Laura Griffin, 464 pages, read by Melody, on 06/29/2014

He’s an ex-cop. She’s an ex-wife. And they’re both out for revenge on the same man….

When pampered former cheerleader Feenie Malone takes a job writing fluff pieces for her South Texas paper, she has no idea she’s about to stumble into a juicy news story that could launch her career — if it doesn’t get her killed first. Almost as soon as she breaks out her press pass, she crosses paths with Marco Juarez, the macho PI obsessed with solving his sister’s murder. The information he has might be the perfect lead — but his dangerously sexy looks could be a deadly distraction.

Juarez has zero patience for reporters, especially mouthy blond ones. But with the evidence pointing to Feenie’s ex-husband, Marco thinks she could be useful. Confident he can keep her on a tight leash, he lets her in on his investigation. He quickly discovers he’s underestimated his new partner, as well as the danger they both face. Now he must protect her — to the very last breath.

30. June 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Brian, How To's, Humor, NonFiction · Tags:

Box Lunch by Diana Cage, 144 pages, read by Brian, on 06/28/2014

boxBox Lunch is an adult oriented book.  It deals with the taboo subject of sex.  Why sex is taboo is beyond me. Oral sex is the subject matter of this piece of work.  This could be one of the funniest books I have read and yet instructional too.  If you do not like explicit sexual books then stay away from this one.  Diana approaches Box Lunch from her own experiences.  If you’re not familiar with the author it’s because she edits and writes for the lesbian magazine, On Our Backs.  I would recommend this book.

 

30. June 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Adult Books, Bryan, Fiction, Westerns

Blood Storm by Bill Brooks, 343 pages, read by Bryan, on 06/29/2014

hw7.plJohn Henry Cole, a detective out of Cheyenne,  is asked to go to Deadwood to look into the murder of three soiled doves.  The plot is complicated when the madam puts an ad in the paper with a $5000 reward for the capture of the murderer(s), which draws in all sorts of bounty hunters.  Insert your typical western characters in Deadwood (Calamity Jane, Doc Holiday and Kate, an evil lawman, and, God forbid, an Englishman!), and the story becomes filled with memorable moments.  OK, not really.  It is a typical Western:  lots of gun play, some romance,  one-liners, the over-sharing barkeeps, minors, prostitutes, etc…  However, it is a fun read and I would recommend it.

29. June 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Adult Books, Fiction, Leslie, Mystery

Bean There, Done That by Sandra Balzo, 184 pages, read by Leslie, on 06/17/2014

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Brash, sassy Maggy Thorsen, amateur sleuth and owner of a Milwaukee coffee shop, is back in another high-speed adventure. Her bitter divorce still rankles, even after all this time, so she is shocked when her ex-husband Ted’s new trophy wife, Rachel, drops by the coffee shop and asks Maggy to help her find evidence that Ted is cheating on her.

I find myself going through all the Maggy Thorsen books I can find, they are that enjoyable.  Again, I did not see the ending until Maggy figures it out in the end.  I love the way Balzo makes you wonder if anyone that Maggy trusts is really the murderer.  The only thing to say is that if she were a real person, she would either have to be super nice or just a real sucker to help out her ex’s new wife.

29. June 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Adult Books, Fiction, Leslie, Mystery

Grounds for Murder by Sandra Balzo, 217 pages, read by Leslie, on 06/14/2014

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Set in Milwaukee at a scaldingly competitive trade show for the coffee industry, egos and tempers are already steaming over such burning issues as store rivalries, product quality and employee poaching. But events reach a head when coffeehouse-owner Maggy Thorsen discovers a body under a table at the conference centre.

Maggy is back, this time in charge of a coffee trade show, and once again, finds herself involved in a murder.  Who knew coffee could be deadly?  She bounces ideas about the murder off her friends, at least the ones she doesn’t suspect, and manages to always irritate the new sheriff, Jake Pavlik.  If you want a fast, good read, these are the books for you.

 

29. June 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Adult Books, Fiction, Leslie, Mystery

Uncommon Grounds by Sandra Balzo, 245 pages, read by Leslie, on 06/12/2014

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Patricia Harper is dead, killed by a hot-wired espresso machine, in Uncommon Grounds, her very own gourmet coffee store! Maggy Thorsen wants to know who killed one of her partners.

As I was looking for some good mysteries to read, I happened upon this book and not only did the cover intrigue me, but the review on the front had me at the words Nancy Drew.  I found the book to be a quick read, well written, in that I could not guess the culprit until they were revealed at the end.  Sandra Balzo keeps you guessing through out the book and I highly recommend them to any mystery fan.

29. June 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Fiction, Leslie, Mystery, Teen Books

Icefall by Matthew J. Kirby, 325 pages, read by Leslie, on 06/09/2014

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Princess Solveig and her siblings are trapped in a hidden fortress tucked between towering mountains and a frozen fjord, along with her best friend and an army of restless soldiers, all awaiting news of the king’s victory in battle, but as they wait for winter’s end and the all-encompassing ice to break, acts of treachery make it clear that a traitor lurks in their midst.

I found this to be a good mystery for any age, not just teens.  It’s not often that you find a well written book set in an old Nordic setting, but it was not a dry book by any means.  Solveig, the middle child between her older, beautiful sister and young brother, the heir, finds herself not only trying to define who she is and wants to be, but trying to solve the mystery they find themselves involved in.  As all well written mysteries should, this one keeps you wondering who is behind it all til the very end.