Jeopardy in July by Barbara Venkataraman


Jeopardy in July by Barbara Venkataraman
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Action/Adventure, Contemporary, Suspense/Mystery
Length: Full Length (220 pgs)
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Aloe

Old people were dying at an alarming rate at La Vida Boca, a posh assisted living facility in Boca Raton, Florida. With its sterling reputation, dedicated staff, and top-notch medical care, none of the deaths are considered suspicious, but when members of the poker club start to die under strange circumstances, attorney Jamie Quinn finds herself once again embroiled in a mystery. With help from her new friend, Jessie Sandler, and her favorite P.I., Duke Broussard, Jamie uncovers a crime that took place forty years earlier. Can she stop the killer in time? Or is she in danger of becoming the next victim?

Jamie has a new client. They are in a nursing home and have been married for years but now they are getting divorced and he wants her to divide their assets. She wonders what brought it on but goes to meet with them anyway. She certainly didn’t expect to meet EMT’s and a stretcher on the way out on her way in but nursing homes are familiar with death. Unfortunately, that was her client on his way out…

This is the second cozy mystery I’ve read by this author and it’s even better than the first one. It turns out the wrong was done forty years ago and someone is trying to eliminate the others who know the truth.

Ms. Venkataraman makes her elderly characters as cantankerous and sarcastic as the old can be. They play cards together, flirt with each other and gossip like everything. They even have a book club group. Jamie is still a bit clueless but she’s learning along the way. Her friend, Duke, helps her on the cases.

Beyond a fake painting, murder at the nursing home, and the FBI visiting with her, she’s also a bit worried about her boyfriend. He was supposed to be returning home and now he’s got another assignment he wants to take. Does he really love her?

The story is busy, exciting, and has a surprise ending. This was a really good read for anyone that loves cozy mysteries. Parts will make you laugh and parts will scare you but you’ll keep reading.

Engaged in Danger by Barbara Venkataraman


Engaged in Danger by Barbara Venkataraman
Jamie Quinn Cozy Mystery Book 4
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Action/Adventure, Contemporary, Suspense/Mystery
Length: Full Length (226 pgs)
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Aloe

Finally, life is good for reluctant family law attorney, Jamie Quinn–her father may get his visa soon, her boyfriend is the bomb, and her law practice is growing like crazy–but when she agrees to take on a high-profile divorce case, everything falls apart. What looked like an opportunity to work with her friend Grace and make some serious bucks has turned into a deadly game, one that could destroy their friendship and tear their town apart. Why couldn’t Jamie just leave well enough alone?

Jamie’s life is good. Her father is getting a visa to come and visit, she loves her boyfriend, and the cases she’s getting are keeping spending money coming in. Then things all fall apart. Her boyfriend is going away on a job and will be gone for three months (THREE MONTHS?!?) and the new case she just took on is high profile and the man involved is dangerous like a shark. Not only that, she’s having a fight with her best female friend. How’s she going to resolve all this?

She starts doing research into the couple’s assets and she finds the wife knows nothing about them. He’s a lawyer but he doesn’t have an office or any jobs she can see. Where is all this money coming from?

The author has a talent for adding enough just enough odd facts to keep you interested and keep you reading to see where the story will go. Jamie is an independent woman who is afraid she may lose her boyfriend to the pretty young woman on the job and you can sympathize with her. She tends to assume things which can be dangerous in her business.

With Russians, money laundering, blackmail and more going around, there’s lots of pieces to pick up, tie together and then do something to fix it without getting hurt. It’s a good thing Jamie is a resilient person and bounces back.

This is a good cozy that romps through the lives of the characters and the case both. It’s just the right length and it has a surprise ending.

Spirit of the Crow by M. Carolyn Steele


Spirit of the Crow by M. Carolyn Steele
Publisher: The Wild Rose Press
Genre: Action/Adventure, Historical
Length: Full Length (338 pgs)
Rating: 5 stars
Reviewed by Aloe

In 1836 John McGregor, a Scottish and Seminole half breed, kills a white man in Florida. The crime is worse when the man turns out to be an Army sergeant. Self-defense is no excuse. McGregor is angry––angry with God, the Maker and Taker of Breath, angry with the red man as well as the white. Among the Indians, this rage earns him the name, One-Who-Gives-No-Chance.

The hardened outcast hides among hundreds of Creek Indians being forcibly removed to Indian Territory. No-Chance ignores the human misery until a scream awakens a hidden memory. He risks exposure of his secret and intercedes for an injured woman in labor. The birth of the infant begins the redemption of John McGregor as he seeks to escape past demons and, despite the hardships, make a place for himself in Indian Territory.

John McGregor is half Scotch and half Seminole Indian. He looks mostly Indian but his blue eyes give him away. He got in a fight with a white man in Florida and killed him. It was self-defense but he’s a half breed and the white man was an Army sergeant. They’re after him. He joins Indians that are being taken to a different reservation and keeps his head down.

This book is factually accurate and covers a very painful time in the history of the US. The Indians were driven from the land they grew up in. They were promised goods and meat by the Army but it never came to be. Ms. Steele bases her story on the Indians themselves and while it’s a sad tale, it’s told well and makes you think of all their suffering.

Things start to go wrong when he notices a young pregnant woman who can barely walk. He tries to give her aid but when she falls, the soldiers are ready to whip her to get her to move again. He stops that and it takes the Indian Scout to save him from trouble. They leave the woman behind and assign John (No Chance) to get her up with the group later. Her husband remains behind also. The woman goes into labor, the men have no idea what to do, and while the baby lives, the mother dies. They bury her and join the Indians again.

Despite all the hardships and loss of hope, No Chance doesn’t give up. Trying to hide among the Indians is not so easy to do. They won’t give him away but they won’t stop the soldiers either.

The story reads well and keeps your interest. As you get into the spirit of the Indians, you can relate to their fear of the white man. No Chance has visits from his dead father. He needs his guidance. It’s all believable as you read it. No Chance ends up with a chance at the end of the book.

If you’re familiar with Indian history, this is a visit to the past with memorable characters. If you’re not, this story will be enlightening. Give it a try; it’s an excellent read.

Hoedown Showdown by Misty Simon


Hoedown Showdown by Misty Simon
Publisher: Wild Rose Press
Genre: Action/Adventure, Contemporary, Suspense/Mystery
Length: Full Length (194 pgs)
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Aloe

With the Tasty Tomato Tournament just days away, the small town of Martha’s Point is all abuzz. This is the first year without a sure winner, and the competition is fierce to gain the judges’ approval, even before the tournament starts.

But when Ivy finds one of those judges dead in a shed across the street, things go from bad to worse. All she wanted was seven glorious, kid-free days of messing around with her husband. Instead, she’s going to be tracking down a killer, staying out of the way of a pickle-obsessed farmer, and dodging the new cop who seems out for her blood.

The Tasty Tomato Tournament is just a few days away and Ivy is very glad. Someone is destroying other contestant’s tomatoes and her husband has brought all his in the house in pots. He’s also brought in his gnomes. He says those make his tomatoes grow well. Maybe so, but they aren’t going to be in her house…

While she’s helping carry them back outside, her next door neighbor calls to her. She thinks she’s her husband and wants him to help her. When Ivy says he’s in the shower, she takes Ivy over to show her the problem. What she didn’t mention was that the problem was a dead body.

This is a cozy mystery that flows well, has plenty of action, romance between Ivy and her husband who are trying to vacation since their children are away for a week, cliques of town folk, tomato judges and more. The dead man was a tomato judge. It seems he got stung by wasps but there were no wasps around. He wasn’t all that stellar of a judge either. Then there’s the pickle man who’s handing out flyers and trying to get support for his festival.

With lots of suspects and bad behavior all around, you can’t guess who the killer is ahead of time. The rookie cop would like to blame in on Ivy and her husband. They spend a lot of time fending him off during their investigation. It makes for some amusing reading and a few laughs.

This was an overall good read and Ivy now has her own private investigator license. Life is going to get even more exciting in the future!

A Match Made in Texas by Margaret Brownley


A Match Made in Texas by Margaret Brownley
Publisher: Sourcebooks
Genre: Action/Adventure, Historical, Suspense/Mystery
Length: Full Length (369 pgs)
Heat Level: Sweet
Rating: 5 stars
Reviewed by Aloe

Welcome to Two-Time Texas:
Where tempers burn hot
Love runs deep
And a single woman can change the course of history:
There’s a new sheriff in town.

Amanda Lockwood gets more than she bargained for when she’s elected Two-Time Texas’s first female sheriff. Anxious to prove herself, she sets out to stop crime in its tracks—taking down wanted man Rick Barrett in the process. But there’s something special about the charming outlaw. Common sense says he must be guilty…but her heart keeps telling her otherwise.

So what’s a sheriff to do? Gather an all-female posse and ride to save the day.

Things sure don’t look good for Rick. If he doesn’t convince the pretty sheriff to let him go, he’ll soon be pushing up daisies. But his plan to woo her to his side backfires when he’s the one who falls head over heels. Now he must choose between freedom or saving the woman he loves…and the clock is ticking.

Who knew A Match Made in Texas could be such sweet, clean, madcap fun?

She’s a young, independent woman. She’s fighting for women’s right to vote and has been in jail a few times. She’s not interested in marrying. She’s also her parent’s despair…

She’s traveling back home on the stage and the driver is running the team like a demon. She cusses him out, he throws her and her baggage off the stage and leaves her in the middle of nowhere. This is not a good start at getting back home. When a cowboy pulls up in his wagon and offers her a ride, she’s not sure she trusts him. However, there’s no other way to town because she can’t pull her hope chest all that way. She says yes.

This was a very cute story with danger, robberies, a house burning down and a sudden interest on Amanda’s part with this particular cowboy. She decides to forget him but she can’t. It gets even worse when she says she’ll run for Sheriff to further support women’s rights. The men protest but they can’t stop her. It’s even worse when she gets the most votes.

The story moves well, the snappy conversation between Amanda and Rick will make you laugh, and her deputy is a joke but she does her best. Rick even tells the men that she hit what she was aiming at chest level. He didn’t mention it was her hope chest.

When Rick gets thrown in jail for murder, it really makes her worry. How can she prove he didn’t do it without witnesses? Luckily she has a woman posse (which all the men are mad about) who can help her. There’s no way not to enjoy a book where the Sheriff can’t shoot straight, her deputy wants to shoot everyone, and her posse runs around in carriages. Enough silly stuff happens to make it a fun read and it ends well. This was a very enjoyable read.

Two Heads Are Deader Than One by Elena Hartwell


Two Heads Are Deader Than One by Elena Hartwell
Publisher: Camel Press
Genre: Action/Adventure, Contemporary, Suspense/Mystery
Length: Full Length (288 pgs)
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Aloe

Private Investigator Eddie Shoes is enjoying a rare period of calm. She’s less lonely now that Chava, her card-counting mom from Vegas, is sharing her home. She also has a new companion, Franklin, a giant dog of curious ancestry.
Hoping for a lucrative new case, Eddie instead finds herself taking on a less promising client: her best friend from her childhood in Spokane. Dakota has turned up in Bellingham in jail, where she is being held on a weapons charge. Eddie reluctantly agrees not only to lend her friend money for bail but to also investigate who is stalking her. Soon after Dakota is freed, she disappears again, leaving Eddie to answer to the local cops, including her ex-boyfriend Chance Parker. Has Dakota been kidnapped? If not, why did she jump bail? What are Eddie’s business cards doing on the bodies of two murder victims?

The key to these mysteries lies in Dakota and Eddie’s shared history, which ended when Eddie left home after high school. As a person of interest in both murder cases, Eddie is forced to go in search of the truth, digging into the past and facing her own demons.

She wasn’t going to answer the phone but then she heard a voice from her past…

This is the second book in the Eddie Shoe mystery series. Book one was a good read and this one is also. The stories move quickly, there’s always danger, moments that make you laugh, and you worry about Eddie. She’s a good PI but she’s not real careful about her own safety. The author has her sticking her nose out a little further than necessary but it sure makes for a fun read.

The woman calling her was her best friend in high school. She’s in jail in her town and wants some help with bail money. Dakota manages to make her feel guilty so she goes down and gets her out. But then Dakota goes to ground and she can’t find her. She’s also not answering her cellphone. When she starts to check out her story, nothing she’s told her is true. Even worse, when she opens the door across the hall where it said they had tarot card readings but ran a prostitution ring, she finds a dead man.

The cops have a dead body and lots of blood in another part of the room. But the dead man didn’t bleed. Whose blood was it?

Eddie keeps digging. She even goes back to Spokane to search out old haunts where she and Dakota hung out. There are still secrets in Spokane and when she finds out the truth, she’ll be free from the guilt of an accident at the end of high school that took someone’s life.

It takes the whole story until the clues start going together. It’s a well thought out mystery, you meet more characters from Eddie’s life and her boyfriend is still around. Maybe in the next book they’ll get back together again. Watch for the third book. Eddie isn’t done snooping yet.

Old Bones Never Die by Leslie A Diehl


Old Bones Never Die by Leslie A Diehl
Publisher: Camel Press
Genre: Action/Adventure, Contemporary, Historical, Suspense/Mystery
Length: Full Length (274 pgs)
Heat Level: Sensual
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Aloe

Just before Walter Egret is killed in a hit-and-run, he phoned his half-brother Sammy to report that he’d unearthed their missing father’s pocket watch, along with a pile of human bones. The project is put on hold until it can be determined if the site is an Indian burial ground. Then the bones disappear. Now Sammy and his brother’s three orphaned children want Eve Appel to go pro, applying her innate snoopiness to the trade of private investigator. Eve already has her hands full with her two consignment stores. What is she going to do? Sammy and Walter are Miccosukee Indians, and Walter was employed as a backhoe operator on a construction site for a sportsmen’s resort. Was Walter’s death murder or an accident? If the bones belong to Sammy’s father, how did they get there? Delving into these mysteries, Eve is aided by her usual crew of friends and family. This adventure will not only up the stakes for Eve as an investigator, but it will also open her eyes to life possibilities she never imagined. Book 5 in the Eve Appel Mystery series, which began with A Secondhand Murder.

Eve is thinking seriously of becoming a private investigator. She knows of one close to her office who would train her. She knows she’s busy with her consignment shop and the RV they use as a second shop, but she still has spare time and intense curiosity. Would it be too much?

This story is a mix about past and present, death long ago and death currently. With two Indian tribes in the area, future development is beginning in their little town but one is excited about it. It gets even worse when some bones show up at the construction site. The work is shut down until the bones are analyzed. Then the bones go missing, the construction man who found them is dead, and a watch that has been missing for years is missing again. Were the bones part of an Indian burial site? If not, who was it?

The pace moves well, there’s more than one mystery, and it all comes out by end of the story. I enjoyed Eve’s family, her lover and his family, and the mob man she’s friends with. Those close to her know she’ll do what she decides to do but they try to talk her out of it.

The romance in this story is soothing and poor Eve needs that in her life. Especially since someone is trying to kill her now because of her snooping.

This writer’s style is easy to read, she closes up any gaps in the story line and she’s made me want to read another in this series. Eve and Sammy are a joy to read about.

Everything Bundt the Truth by Karen C. Whalen


Everything Bundt the Truth by Karen C. Whalen
Publisher: Wild Rose Press
Genre: Contemporary, Suspense/Mystery
Length: Full Length (320 pgs)
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Aloe

Recent widow, Jane Marsh, is determined to recapture a rich, full life. She strives for youthful fun by riding a bicycle downtown on her lunch hour in a suit and heels, smoking cigars, eating at hipster restaurants, and re-entering the dating scene, even if her dates prove to be peculiar.

Her most fervent desire, though, is to join an exclusive dinner club. She auditions, but is barred when her housekeeper is found murdered, and she and her guest list become the suspect list. Her, a killer? So what if her two late husbands died under suspicious circumstances. It doesn’t make her a killer.

Having passed off a store bought Bundt cake as her own creation, she may have committed a culinary crime, but never murder!

Jane is getting ready for a dinner party and she wants everything perfect. She’s made special dishes, has laid out the table and is going down her list checking off everything that needs to be done. When she finds that she forgot the creamer, she asks her girlfriend to go pick it up for her. She’s worried about her house cleaner who hasn’t arrived on time. It’s her first visit, and Jane is hoping she’s good at what she does. She was recommended by her girlfriend who assures her she’ll be there in time to get the work done and she’ll be happy with it. She’s pleased to see her show up and start on her job and she tells her to finish up by a certain time and that she will be back with her Bundt cake in a bit. She leaves and returns to an empty house. Empty except for the body in the basement…

This is a cozy mystery and, of course, Jane becomes a suspect. When the police aren’t finding the killer and the dinner club won’t approve her membership until the killer is found, Jane has a new mission: Find the killer herself.

There are a lot of shady characters in the past of the woman. Jane is sure one of the dinner club members wouldn’t have done it. But it takes a lot of time weeding through the facts and reading between the lines. In the meantime, the murdered woman’s son dies.

The story read well, the author made you feel Jane’s fear and uncertainty, and she threw in some humor, too. Stronger characters would have enhanced the story. There are almost too many events going on; it tends to shade the mystery story. The way it ended was pleasing and it would be easy to walk into another story from here. Jane appears to be settling down and another story about her would be fun to read.

Body in the Box by E R Fallon


Body in the Box by E R Fallon
Publisher: Joffe Books
Genre: Action/Adventure, Contemporary, Suspense/Mystery
Length: Full Length (227 pgs)
Rating: 5 stars
Reviewed by Aloe

Voted BoM by LASR Readers 2013 copy

THE FRAIL BODY OF A YOUNG BOY IS FOUND DISCARDED IN AN OLD CARDBOARD BOX. EVEN IN A HARD-EDGED TOWN USED TO DEADLY CRIMES, THIS TOUCHES A NERVE.

New York Times bestselling author Da Chen has said E.R. Fallon writes the kind of stories that “. . . we stay up all night to finish.”

Who dumped the boy’s body in this desolate part of the city and why? And why is he missing his spleen?

BODY IN THE BOX is the first book in a gripping new mystery series featuring three very different homicide detectives.

Detectives Dino Cooper and Terry Jackson have been partners and friends for years. Now a new detective is drafted in to join them: Rebecca Everhart. They must quickly learn to work together on the biggest case of their careers, the disturbing discovery of the ‘Body in the Box’, as it’s known by the captivated media and the city’s worried citizens.

The case takes the three detectives deep inside the lives of Newark’s insular Eastern European immigrant community and the world of unlawful medical practices. It also brings back an eerie childhood memory of Dino’s, where a boy from his neighborhood vanished and was never seen again.

What appears to be a straightforward, modern-day murder case has more to do with the past than the present, and the detectives come to a genuinely unnerving — and life-threatening — conclusion.

There’s a young boy in a big cardboard box in the end of town where the homeless live. He’s dead, he has nothing to identify him with except his teeth. He also happens to be missing his spleen…

This is a police procedural that leads the detectives into a worm hole of the poor and indigent and Russian illegals. The boy they found was not currently missing. The homeless didn’t see anything or won’t talk about it if they did. They begin looking for a child who could have been injured enough to lose his spleen. What they find takes them to the Russians. It’s a good thing the new female detective can speak some Russian or they’d have had to find a translator. Again, no one wants to talk to them. When they find out who the child is, he’s been missing for two years. Where has he been?

The pace is steady, the mystery keeps twisting around and you keep turning the pages to see what new clue will show up. This case relates to an old unsolved one but no one will know that until the end.

The description of the Russians and how they lived and the places the homeless lived was depressing. It’s especially sad how the boy ended up where he did. Sometimes life is not kind.

Watching the police work, wondering about the killer, and rooting for the team of detectives came naturally. There are romantic problems just to keep your interest. The story already had mine.

Here’s an unusual mystery with even more unusual motive. If you like mysteries, you need to read this one.

Victoria by Daisy Goodwin


Victoria by Daisy Goodwin
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Genre: Historical
Length: Full Length (401 pgs)
Heat Level: Sweet
Rating: 5 stars
Reviewed by Aloe

“They think I am still a little girl who is not capable of being a Queen.”

Lord Melbourne turned to look at Victoria. “They are mistaken. I have not known you long, but I observe in you a natural dignity that cannot be learnt. To me, ma’am, you are every inch a Queen.”

In 1837, less than a month after her eighteenth birthday, Alexandrina Victoria – sheltered, small in stature, and female – became Queen of Great Britain and Ireland. Many thought it was preposterous: Alexandrina — Drina to her family — had always been tightly controlled by her mother and her household, and was surely too unprepossessing to hold the throne. Yet from the moment William IV died, the young Queen startled everyone: abandoning her hated first name in favor of Victoria; insisting, for the first time in her life, on sleeping in a room apart from her mother; resolute about meeting with her ministers alone.

One of those ministers, Lord Melbourne, became Victoria’s private secretary. Perhaps he might have become more than that, except everyone argued she was destined to marry her cousin, Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. But Victoria had met Albert as a child and found him stiff and critical: surely the last man she would want for a husband….

Drawing on Victoria’s diaries as well as her own brilliant gifts for history and drama, Daisy Goodwin, author of the bestselling novels The American Heiress and The Fortune Hunter as well as creator and writer of the new PBS/Masterpiece drama Victoria, brings the young queen even more richly to life in this magnificent novel.

Victoria was only eighteen when she became Queen. Her mother and her mother’s friend planned on running the kingdom for her and she could just look pretty. Victoria had no intention of doing that and make it plain on her Coronation Day that she would be the Queen and make the decisions. Since no one thought she’d do that, she wasn’t trained. It was a good thing she had a Prime Minister who could help her figure out the problems and gently guide her to practical solutions. She was smart and did well at making her own decisions but she was lacking on political experience. He helped with that.

This author’s words sing from the pages. It’s hard to take historical fact and make an interesting book but Ms. Goodwin has done just that. It feel like you are reading a Regency romance but it’s more impressive because it’s about the real Queen Victoria.

She has several successes in her life, but she’s not doing so well in love. She’s grown quite fond of her Prime Minister. He helps her find humor, makes meals a pleasure with her family, and goes on horse rides with her. When he learns she’s getting a little too fond of him, he tries to distance himself. He’s too old for her, but he’s fond of her, too. Sometimes you can’t have the one you love but you don’t forget them.

Her mother and her friend are trying to set her up with her cousin. She thinks he’s a lump and is not impressed. Of course, she last saw him three years ago and he’s a bit better with age. He still doesn’t hold a candle to the Prime Minister. And, being Queen, she’s the one who has to propose.

While she rules a country she loves and tries to help everyone around her, she also manages to get rid of her mother’s lover (who is against her) and she works out who and why she should marry.

This is history that is alive in the retelling. Ms. Goodwin’s words flow well, the story is well told and it’s very enjoyable to read. Victorian times weren’t boring.