Book Review Saturday: Hannah Swensen Holiday Mysteries

“… a Santa-sized sackful of trouble ensues.”

Christmas time usually involves a handful of fun, easy reads and several binge sessions of Hallmark holiday movies. No worries though, I still manage to fit in quite a bit of reading between The Christmas Kiss and The Santa Clause. I have never read Joanne Fluke but the thought of a few mindless hours behind a Christmas themed book was too tempting to pass up. I finished Christmas Caramel Murder in a few hours and returned to the library the next day for another one. It was hard to limit myself, but I need to save a few for next year, right? The books are very short and include several recipes for those that are baking inclined. I must admit that a sugar cookie craving followed. I doubt mine tasted quite like the book proposed but I was up for the challenge.

I read the books out of order and it didn’t seem to matter. I didn’t know all the back story or characters but that wasn’t why I was reading. I just wanted to solve the murder while humming Christmas tunes and imagining the town all decked out in holiday cheer. The Christmas Caramel Murder finds Mrs. Clause dead in the snow. Mrs. Clause, better known as Phyllis Bates, has angered several people including Lisa, Hannah’s best friend. Phyllis was chosen to play Mrs. Clause alongside Lisa’s husband, her ex-boyfriend whom she kisses during rehearsal of the Christmas Carol play. Hannah must work quickly to solve the murder because her friends are high on the suspect list. This was my favorite of the two. Sugar Cookie Murder was a bit drawn out. Murder strikes at the annual Christmas buffet and Hannah decides to put her investigation skills to work since Detective Mike is shorthanded. The new wife of Martin Dubinski is found dead in the snow with the whole town stranded in the Community Center as suspects. The obvious suspects such as the ex-wife, ex-boyfriend and husband who was already regretting the marriage are ruled out, but the real evidence comes in the form of photographs of the event. Hannah always seems to find the killer before Mike and it seems a bit far fetched that the detective is always a few steps behind.

I do not read these cozy mysteries looking for five star reads. If that is what you are looking for, you will be very disappointed. I read these to escape for a few hours and not have to think or be challenged. That isn’t a negative against the author, these just aren’t those type of books. I know people who rate them with one star because they say the writing is awful, or it’s too predictable but what did they expect? I think book reviewers fail to consider context and audience which can be a detriment to many authors. Be considerate before you review. It will make for a better reading and writing experience for all.

Do you have any holiday reads that you enjoy? I would love to add some new ones to my reading roster. Please send me some of your favorites!

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Book Review Saturday: The Body in the Marsh

“Life is out there and has to be lived.”

Body in the Marsh has an excellent cover. I know the old saying, but that is truly why I picked this book. I was expecting a detective novel, but didn’t realize it would be based in Surrey and Kent. It starts out with Detective Craig Gillard rescuing an unknown woman who gets trapped on a mountain during a winter storm. I was thrown off by this part of the story and was hoping to dive right in to the mystery and intrigue. It was no shock when they developed a somewhat dysfunctional relationship that continues throughout the story. For me, the story began when Craig becomes intrigued by a missing person report. It turns out to be an old girlfriend that broke his heart. He still carries around the baggage and can’t see past the love he still feels for her. Most of the time a relationship would mean that he was taken off the case but he hides it from his boss. The author does a good job of leaving trails of clues along the way, but I called the ending early on. I kept reading because I enjoyed the investigation. The side story of Girl F who reported abuse but was dismissed and later killed herself tied in nicely with the missing person case. Overall, I liked that it had a broader focus but I could take it or leave it.

I am always hesitant to review crime novels because I have read so many. When I discover an ending within a few chapters it makes me wonder if my fellow book lovers do as well. I couldn’t get past Craig’s love for Liz, the missing person. He held on for so long and was STILL in love with her after 30 years. I may be doing love wrong, but this seems a bit excessive for a high school love story. I know Nicholas Sparks would disagree but I like my romance to be a bit more realistic. The cases seemed plausible, but I flagged a quote in Chapter 13 for further review. I have a question for all my fellow crime novelists, detectives, lovers of the law:

“First, we’re monitoring every number on his contact list from the original phone. If any of those numbers is called by a number that’s new to them, we’ll get a copy of the metadata.”

Is this legal? Can the investigators really track calls to all the contacts in a person’s phone? Let’s say I had 5 contacts on my phone, then they would tap into those 5 contacts list to see if any new numbers called? This seems a bit farfetched even with our recent Patriot Act, but maybe this happens? I would hope it would at least require a warrant. I’m interested in your thoughts and opinions! Let me know what you think.

Book Review Saturday: Murder Games

“This is all a game to you, isn’t it? A sick, perverted, and twisted game that’s only getting started. Are you really going to play every card in the deck? It’s what you want us to think, right?”

This is my first Patterson. In my effort to add another author to my “have read” list I picked up this new release and a day and a half later here we are. I mean a girl has to work right? That was pretty much my only break from this book and I even managed to squeeze in some pages in between the summer rush there. This book is fast and furious with short chapters helping you dive quickly into the race against the clock to save the next victim.

Dr. Dylan Reinhart wrote a book on criminal behavior that happens to be found at a crime scene along with a threat on the cover next to his name. This starts his journey into the discovery of the man behind the murders of several “innocent” people. He is teamed up with NYPD detective Elizabeth Needham who sets an example for all women who want to be taken seriously. They are two very strong, likeable characters that go from crime scene to crime scene trying to prevent The Dealer from striking again. A playing card is left at each scene to hint at his next target. This isn’t a new idea, in fact I just read a Patricia Cornwell with the same context but it didn’t feel overdone or predictable. Reinhart takes a chance and discovers the truth after they get one step ahead. There are a few subplots of interest with the mayor of New York fighting for reelection, Reinhart’s background in the CIA, and the media playing a large role in events.

Patterson has the formula down for an enjoyable reading experience. Short chapters, constant action, and a mystery to be solved make for a good time. I had a bias against this author after being let down by many other popular bestsellers but he has renewed my faith. I understand why so many people are eager to get their hands on his new releases. I may be next in line to jump on the bandwagon. 

Book Review Friday: Two Can Play

“Cautious is boring.”

I took a trip to my local library on a mission to find books from unknown authors. I wanted to stroll through the shelves and see what I could find without having my usual list of must haves. Two Can Play caught my eye with its bold red cover and “deliciously twisted” quote. I did not realize it was the second in a series before I made it home but it was easy to follow regardless.

Audrey Harte is a criminal psychologist hired to prepare for the trial of a teenage serial killer, Ian Monroe. Before interviewing Monroe, Audrey receives flowers signaling the beginning of a game that she did not intend on playing. As evidence begins to come together, it is likely that Monroe had a partner or someone that is helping taunt Audrey. She must race to find answers as more girls are taken and protect the one surviving witness, Tori Scott. Between the victims, Monroe and Audrey’s personal life this book is jam packed with action. After getting past the first few chapters I couldn’t put this one down. I had to know how everything was going to come together.

As far as mystery novels go, this one is a winner! The author gives just enough of the story to keep you hooked without letting you guess too much about the future. I didn’t really know the ending until about 20 pages before it was revealed. The clues left along the way are perfect to keep the reader going. I would definitely read this book again to see if I found any more along the way.

I have spoken to the author, Kate Kessler, and book three will be out in November of this year. She is currently writing the fourth installment. I am going to be anxiously waiting for my copy to arrive! 

A Novel Way to Die

“I guess that after running into that terrible woman, we should just count ourselves lucky to be alive.”

I ran across this book while searching my library catalog for “criminologist,” and must say I was happily surprised. My first thought was that the book must have been low on the publishing priority list because of its white pages, and binding. Have you heard of Five Star Publishing? Why do some books take priority over others? Why are some books published, while others are not? This book brought questions of why I read certain novels over others, and why we trust the big publishers over the small, local ones. If not for my random catalog search, I never would have found this book that captured me from the first chapter.
The story starts off with a mystery novelist found dead in her home by a close friend. Molly, her daughter, seeks to find the truth surrounding her mother’s death while struggling to keep her family together after her husband’s indiscretions. Many believe the death to be a suicide, including Molly, until evidence begins to arise of a stalker and motive from people close to her. As more people begin to die, Molly must hurry before she is next! I finished the story in one day, because it was easy to read and kept me guessing. There are several viable options when it comes to choosing the killer, and it unfolds perfectly as you continue reading.
The author of this story, Karen Hanson Stuyck, gives me hope that I may one day write a novel that will be published. I hope more will pick up her work, and give small time authors a chance!