Mini-review: The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter (Ballad #2) by Sharyn McCrumb


In the used bookstore a few days ago I asked the clerk for a mystery recommendation. This was one of them.
While it isn’t objectively bad, I just didn’t enjoy it. I realized tonight that I was coming up with any excuse to not pick it up and finish. So I quickly skimmed the last half and guess what? It was more of the same. This isn’t a mystery even though it’s categorized as a crime novel – the killer is named very early on. At times it seemed to be dealing with environmental issues, then small town religion, an old woman with the sight…well, you get my drift. It was all over the place and needed to pick a literary lane. 

Part of the issue is that I also looked at the book summaries of the rest of the series.  I knew then it wasn’t going to work for me. Not a real series with consistent characters. 

2/5 stars.

Review – Sweep in Peace (Innkeeper Chronicles #2) by Ilona Andrews


It’s Ilona Andrews; of course Sweep in Peace is good.  Interesting story, nice pace, great characterization – objectively I should give this 4-4.5 stars.  But, I love Dina, the MC, so much and it’s my prerogative so 5-stars it is.  I could take the next few minutes and tell you about the surprises that Andrews included, the emotion or the fantastic world-building.  Instead, here is a snippet from Dina’s POV showing my recent visit to her magical B&B (it’s all in my head of course and that’s okay, I’m not crazy.  Really!):


I heard a chime that indicated our guest was arriving at the front door.  My inn was nervous as she was anytime a non-magical human came to visit.  I quietly assured her that this had been cleared.  Even though our visitor didn’t have any magical talents herself, she was well aware of the vampires, shifters and others in the worlds we live in.  As a lifelong reader she knew many of the old stories.  And, when she accidentally saw a shifter change forms, she was somehow able to convince her to both not kill her and introduce her to others.  (Did I say she didn’t have magical talent?  We might need to look a little closer, on second thought.)

Taking a deep breath and hoping that Caldenia would stay in her room as I asked, I opened the door.  “Welcome to Gertrude Hunt, Mary.  Glad tidings and warm sunshine.  Do you need any help with your luggage?”

“Glad tidings and warm sunshine to you as well, Dina.  It’s so nice to finally meet you in person.  I’ve heard many wonderful things about you and your Inn.  Don’t worry about the bag; I’ve got it.  I’m only here one night and didn’t need much other than a change of clothes and my books.”

As we walked, I asked Mary about the trip here and noted her nervousness.  While she knew about magic, she still seemed a little apprehensive about being surrounded by walls of it.  We made small talk and worked our way up the stairs as I made a few adjustments to the room I had prepared.  It was clear that Mary needed comfort and that something was not right in her world.  A desk with a view of the apple orchard came to mind so I created space and added a large wooden Amish desk with plenty of room.  I tweaked the bedding as well.  More pillows and soft bamboo sheets.  There, that should do it.

We reached the room and I felt a little nervous myself.  Even though my primary responsibility as an Innkeeper is my guest’s safety, their comfort is a close second.  Creating the right room for someone you barely know is always the hardest part.

“Here is your room, Mary.”  I opened the door and she stopped dead in her tracks.  Uh-oh.

“How?  How did you do this?”  She finally stepped into the room and dropped her bag.  Walking to the bed, she ran her hands along with down comforter and then along one of the posts.  The bookshelf was next and I could tell that she was hesitant.

“Go ahead, these books are yours to enjoy during your stay.  You can pull out any of them.”

I saw her select Alice in Wonderland, then her eyes went straight to a first edition of And Then There Were None.  Walking to the desk, she set the books on top and looked out the window.

“Thank you, Dina.  I don’t know how you knew but thank you.  I’ve had writer’s block for over a month and have been afraid to even walk into my office.  I finally decided to take a trip hoping it would clear my mind.”  Turning back to me, she said, “I think you’ve done the impossible.”

“I’m just an Innkeeper.  It’s part of the job.”  Leaving her to unpack, I reminded her that dinner would be at 7:00.  Orro had something special planned for our human guest.

About an hour later, I was in the den with a book of my own and a cup of tea.  I could feel the Inn practically humming.  ‘What is it, Gertrude?’  She showed me a quick peek into Mary’s room – she was at the desk, typing furiously with the happiest smile I had seen in a  while.  I patted the wall and told Gertrude to give Mary her privacy but I couldn’t hide my own smile.

When we all met in the dining room for dinner at 7:00, Mary was beaming but again seemed a little nervous.

“How was your afternoon, Mary? Is there anything I can get you?”

“My afternoon was wonderful and the room is everything.  But, I do have a question.”  Mary smiled at me and said, “I know I was only cleared for one night and this may not be possible but, Dina, can I stay for a few more days?  There is something here that I need right now.”

Gertrude was nudging me through our magical tie and I knew that we both agreed.  “Stay as long as you want, Mary.  We have plenty of room and will love having you here.”

The door opened and Caldenia walked in.  As I introduced the two women, I wondered if Mary would want to stay after she saw Caldenia eat a chicken leg in about five seconds with her sharp teeth.  Crossing my fingers that all would be okay, I asked Orro to serve the first course.


Review – As The Crow Flies (Walt Longmire #8) by Craig Johnson


There are so many crazy things going on in our world and sometimes a little thing in a book can make you think about important, real world issues.  As The Crow Flies is the 8th book in the Longmire series.  When I start a Craig Johnson novel, I love to read the acknowledgements and foreword.  In this one, Johnson talks about the fact that people ask him if he catches grief for using the word “Indian” instead of “Native American”.  Here is his response: “Most of my interaction has been with members of the Cheyenne and Crow tribes, who generally laugh when I try to use the more sensitive term.  They ask me where, exactly, I was born – hence, my being a ‘Native American’ too.  I’ve been fortunate enough to spend time over the years with these magnificent people, and I can honestly say that I enjoy their company above all others.”  In the narrative itself there is another non-politically correct reference: “In a perverseness of geography, there were two towns by the name of Birney just on and just off the Rez.  To the Indians they will forever be referred to as Red Birney and White Birney, but to the politically correct Caucasians the names had been transmogrified to Birney Day and Birney Post.”  I’m not sure why this really stuck with me, but it did.  In the world of social media, someone is always offended about something.  Wouldn’t it be a better place if we looked at the quality of a person’s character and how they treat others rather than assuming the worst ALL THE TIME?

Part of what I enjoy about the Walt Longmire series is the friendship between Henry Standing Bear and Walt.  Henry is everything.  The end.

In the past few months, I’ve been reading some of the Tony Hillerman series as well.  One of them, People of Darkness, discusses some Native American (see, I just did it myself) religions that use Peyote as part of their ceremonies.  It was interesting to see Walt experience this hallucinogen – is it legal in religious ceremonies now?  Just wondering.

My only complaint with ATCF is Walt and his women.  I get it – he is a man’s man.  But, honestly, I tired of him constantly staring at women, talking about their necks (that was just plain weird) and how staggeringly beautiful they were.  I know he and Vic aren’t exclusive but come on.  Women are more than hair, eyes, necks (?!), breasts and butts.  He was even carrying on about the light playing in his daughter’s hair and her adding suntan lotion to her feet.

Overall, enjoyable and a good addition to the series.  Just stop with the woman-ogling, Walt!

4/5 stars.

Review – A Rule Against Murder (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache #4) by Louise Penny


Best laid plans – I just wrote a detailed review for A Rule Against Murder with my reactions, both good and bad.  And you know what happened?  I just freaking deleted it accidentally.  Well, as they would say in Quebec – c’est la vie.

I’m not sure I have the mental energy to recreate the review so I’ll just give you the highlights.  Sound fair?  Good.

Armand Gamache is very reminiscent of Hercule Poirot.  Intentional?  Both are the best at what they do and well-respected by those they work with.  They are cerebral, needing time to THINK about the facts of a case in order to solve it.  And both are meticulous about their dress and appearance.  But, while Poirot is arrogant and abrasive, Gamache is calming and self-possessed.

Writing a story with unlikable characters can be dangerous.  Gillian Flynn has perfected it and Penny gave it a shot here.  The Finneys, fellow guests with the Gamaches at an isolated Manoir, are presented almost entirely in a negative light.  The problem comes in when a reader feels that we are forced to dislike someone rather than it happening organically.  Penny crossed this line a few times.

The story is well done and fast paced.  Overall, it’s an enjoyable read and strong addition to the series.  4/5 stars.

P.S. Since this doesn’t take place in Three Pines, as the rest of the series does, we don’t get to see many of our favorite characters.  A couple do play important roles here and it seems that Penny has future plans for one of them.  I wouldn’t look forward to it if I were them.  Just guessing.

Review – The ABC Murders (Hercule Poirot #13) by Agatha Christie

9672973A – Ascher in Andover

B – Betty Barnard in Bexhill

C – Carmichael Clarke in Churston

Hercule Poirot receives a letter from someone who signs their name as ABC challenging him to catch them.  They are planning a murder on a specific day in Andover.  When he finds that a murder did occur, he works with the police to try to predict the next move.  The second letter announcing an upcoming murder in Bexhill also comes true.  Then Churston.  Can Poirot catch a serial killer before he works his way through the alphabet?

Another strong mystery from the queen herself.  Written in both 1st and 3rd person, The ABC Murders is well paced and plotted with another cast of interesting characters.  1st person chapters are written from the viewpoint of Arthur Hastings, a friend to Poirot who assists in the investigation.  3rd person chapters are based on scenes where he wasn’t present but had some knowledge based on the investigation.  Hastings is an interesting sidekick for Poirot and his influence and observations helped humanize Poirot and make him more likable.

When a reader works through an author’s library, they learn some of their quirks.  It always surprises me to find that successful authors that have published a multitude of books still make certain, what I consider, errors.  In one case, I found the word “indefatigable” three times on the same page.  What made it most noticeable was that the term hadn’t been used before in this novel and wasn’t used again.  In some ways it is normal.  A writer remembers or thinks of a fitting word that they like.  It’s in their head for a while so it’s used probably more than it should be.  (I’ve seen everyone from Stephen King to Jennifer Estep do this.)  But, when it’s this obvious, why doesn’t a beta reader or editor point it out?  Maybe they do and the author likes it as is.  That’s fine but as I’m reading it does stop the flow of the pages and makes the novel slightly less than it could have been.  Does that make sense or am I really overanalyzing things?

The ending was satisfying and showed that once again Poirot is the smartest detective and no one can touch his deductive capabilities.

Overall a strong addition to the series and extremely well done.  4.5/5 stars.

Review – People of Darkness (Navajo Mysteries #4) by Tony Hillerman

952205People of Darkness is the fourth book in the Navajo Mysteries series.  The story begins when a car bomb goes off at a cancer hospital.  From there it just gets weirder when a rich wife contacts Sgt. Jim Chee with the Navajo Tribal Police to hire him to find a stolen box.  Assassins, greedy business owners, peyote smoking religious Navajos and more.

When I finished the story, I rated it 4-stars but today I’m feeling it’s more of a 2-star.  Why the difference?  Partly because of the main character change up.  I knew from a series summary I read earlier that a second MC, Jim Chee, would be introduced at some point.  What I didn’t expect was for Hillerman to just use him in a story with no explanation of who he was and no tie-in to Joe Leaphorn, the prior MC.  After thinking about it, I believe this was a miss for Hillerman.  Fans of a series go into a book with certain expectations and it could have been a smoother transition.

Also, as you can see from my crazy synopsis above, the story was a little all over the place.  The resolution of the mystery wasn’t very satisfactory for me and seemed far-fetched.

While I enjoyed reading this, I do think it’s a 2-star.  Womp womp womp.

Review – Murder on the Orient Express (Hercule Poirot #10) by Agatha Christie

3128578_orig1934 – let that sink in just a little.  Murder on the Orient Express was published in 1934.

One of the passengers on the Orient Express is murdered.  The train is stranded due to a snowdrift and Poirot, who happens to be aboard, is tasked with finding the killer.

Let’s get the character of Poirot out of the way first.  I don’t like him.  He’s arrogant and condescending.  Usually this dislike would hamper my enjoyment of the novel but somehow Christie found a way for me to still be enraptured.

The secondary characters are well done but still not what makes the story 5-star material.  Poirot’s friend, Bouc – who is an executive with the train line, is in the background of the investigation giving his almost always inaccurate opinions.  Poirot needs a sidekick to play off and Bouc works.  The women are not all cardboard cutouts and play very important roles.  Even the train conductor is important.

Most striking to me, though, is the pacing and the structure of the story.  (Surprising – as many times I am so immersed in what I consider a “great” book that I don’t necessarily notice these details.)  Christie uses words economically and sets the book up well.  The chapters are a length that will appeal to the majority of readers.  Sadly, many of us have limited reading time.  So we plan to read one chapter before bed or during a work break.  Christie’s genius in MotOE is that once the story is set up, she allows Poirot to interview a suspect per chapter.  Once you read his interview with the Conductor, though, you realize that there are now questions for the passengers and think, “OK, I’ll just read the interview of the Secretary.”  Then, your curiosity is such that you have to know what the Valet says.  Before you know it, you have read all the interviews and at 75% it really will only take a little while longer to just go ahead and finish so that you can know who the heck killed this man.  It was a race to the finish.  Agatha won.  No doubt.

World’s Best Mystery Writer?  I may still need a little convincing but Murder on the Orient Express almost sealed the deal.

5/5 stars.