All That is Secret

Author: Patricia Raybon

Series: Annalee Spain Mystery #1

Publisher: Tyndale

Release Date: October 5, 2021

Rating: 4 out of 5.

A great new mystery series begins!

When theologian professor Annalee Spain receives a cryptic telegram hinting at foul play for her estranged father’s death, she takes a hard look at her life in Chicago and decides that she should follow the trail.  She’s always been daring, known as the colored professor at the bible college, but in 1923, it doesn’t always pay to be daring.  Aboard the train to Denver, trouble manages to find her as someone seems to want to keep her away.  As she explores the events related to her father’s death, she finds a trail that leads to more danger mixed with high-ranking members of the KKK.  Along with colorful supporting characters, Annalee must charter the skills of her favorite literary detective, Sherlock Holmes, if she hopes to find the truth.

I always love getting the start to a new series and mysteries are the best.  This one sets the characters paths for future installments and I just love Annalee Spain.  She has spunk and is daring, but also has times of self-doubt that made her seem human.  There wasn’t a tremendous amount of descriptive scenery set throughout the book, but it did not take way from the story line at all.  There were hints and traces of 1923 Denver, but the mystery is what really drove the story.  I can’t wait to see how the relationship between Jack and Annalee blossoms in the future and I’m curious about how young Eddie will progress and grow as a character.  The book is colorful, exciting, and mysterious; just what anyone needs for these upcoming cold nights.

I received a complimentary copy of this title from the publisher.  The views and opinions expressed within are my own.

The Last Line

Author: Robert Dugoni

Series: Tracy Crosswhite #8.5

Publisher: Amazon Original Stories

Release Date: October 21, 2021

Rating: 5 out of 5.

A great addition to the Tracy Crosswhite series with a focus on Del, one of the detectives working with Tracy and the gang. Fans of the Crosswhite series will not want to miss this great short story!

Del Castigliano has left his life and work in Wisconsin after a failed relationship and other problems and decides to head to Seattle and work as a detective in his new city. He goes to work under veteran detective Moss Gunderson who hands him his first big case, two bodies are found in Lake Union and Del is tasked with finding out who they are and what happened to them. The more he digs into the case, the more questions he has. Del pulls in another rookie, Vic Fazzio, to help him answer he many questions he is acquiring. Together they work to find the missing pieces of information and determine if the answer were kept from him on purpose and who he can trust in the department.

Robert Dugoni is my favorite author for a reason, he is one of the only writers I know that can whip out a 53-page short story and have it read as a novel and keep me aching for more. His Tracy Crosswhite series is my favorite and this was a fun look into the lives and history of some of the secondary characters we don’t know as much about. There is so much more to develop with this series and these characters and Dugoni is just the guy to give us the stories we want. Del is seen throughout the series but this look into how he came to be at Seattle PD helped me understand him better and why he acts the way he does with Tracy and the others in the beginning novels of the series. If you are a fan of the Crosswhite series or Dugoni in general, I highly recommend you adding this to your collection

I received a complimentary copy of this title from the publisher.  The views and opinions expressed within are my own.

Object Lessons

Author: Stephanie Kane

Publisher: Cold Hard Press

Release Date: October 15, 2021

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Readers who love murder mysteries that are linked to other crimes will love this!

Adam and Eve Castle have a business where they create dioramas to train police officers on different crime scenes.  To some, it is just a scene of a crime with no real effect. But to art conservator Lily Sparks, she sees connections that others don’t and is able to quickly come to conclusions that even the Castles sometimes miss.  When murders start to happen that mimic the dioramas, Lily quickly puts the two together and must work to convince others of the connections, even if it means she must stop them herself.

Initially, I thought this book was going to be based on true crime events, but after diving in, I quickly realized it was true crime based on the dioramas.  My biggest drawback on this was reading it as a standalone.  It is written as a continuation of characters that have been developed previously and as a reader, I missed some back story that I felt was important.  The scenes were written so that they were pretty interesting, but sometimes it was a little disjointed between scenes.  I think I would have enjoyed it more had I started from the beginning, especially to understand Lily and Paul’s relationship better.

There is quite a bit of foul language and some implied sex throughout, but nothing graphic.  Even so, I still recommend this for mature audiences.

I received a complimentary copy of this title from the publisher.  The views and opinions expressed within are my own.

Poison for Breakfast

Author: Lemony Snicket

Publisher: Liveright

Release Date: August 31, 2021

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Anyone who has ever read a Lemony Snicket book will know the witty, philosophical quirkiness experienced within the pages of Poison for Breakfast.

Lemony Snicket has investigated many suspicious things over the years but none as suspicious as his own death. One morning after breakfast he receives a note telling him he has had Poison for Breakfast. Now he has the unpleasant task of figuring out what was poisonous and who would want to poison him. It is not a task Mr. Snicket is going to enjoy, but nonetheless, he has no choice but to solve this mystery.

I have always been a big fan of the Lemony Snicket series, even though it has been many years since I read the original books. When Poison for Breakfast came out, I was excited to dive into another Snicket adventure. It may be that it has been many years since I first read them and I am older now, but the magic of the Snicket universe just wasn’t there for me this time. My attention wasn’t held as well as I would have liked which is probably mostly due to the narrative style of storytelling. I do think this is a good, fun story for a certain group of young adults. If you are looking for a good, satire book, this is for you. It is mostly narrative which can slow the story down considerably. While this wasn’t a favorite of mine, I do think others will greatly enjoy it.

I received a complimentary copy of this title from the publisher.  The views and opinions expressed within are my own.

The Hand on the Wall

Author: Maureen Johnson

Series: Truly Devious #3

Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books

Release Date: October 20, 2020

Rating: 4 out of 5.

The third book in the Truly Devious series brings more mystery, more teen drama, and a satisfying conclusion!

Ellingham Academy has had its share of bad luck. First, the kidnapping and murders in the 1930’s when it was opened and now more murder mysteries. Stevie Bell has one goal, to solve the murders, both past and present. She uses her detective skills to piece together what happened in the past and how it relates to the trouble at the school while she is there as a student. Not only is she trying to solve the murders, but she is also trying to find missing student, David Eastman. A major snowstorm hits the academy trapping them inside, giving Stevie the time and resources to hopefully solve one of the biggest mysteries ever.

Let me start with the positives, this was a great mystery with a complex story line tying in the past with the present. Lots of smaller storylines that needed closure which all got tied up by the end in a satisfying way. Stevie is a fun and compelling protagonist that kept me engaged in the story and eager to see if she was going to pull of solving a case no one else had ever been able to solve. While it might have seemed a little uncertain that a teenager could pull it off, Maureen Johnson wrote this series in such a way that everything was believable.

There were very few negatives for me, but the first was David. He was a little whinny here and just got on my nerves at times. The other part, which is one of the same criticisms I had in the second book, was the character of Vi. When this character was on the page the pronouns them/they were used. I get that this is a part of society now but when reading that it took me out of the story; I had to go back and reread to determine if it was talking about one character or multiple characters. This was really my only big problem with the book, the concept was great, the other characters were fantastic, and I loved the overall story. While this story is geared towards Young adults, there is a lot of adult language, which makes me hesitant to recommend to that group of readers. I do recommend this to readers that enjoy mystery, suspense and solving crimes with the characters.

The Vanishing Stair

Author: Maureen Johnson

Series: Truly Devious #2

Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books

Release Date: December 10, 2019

Rating: 4 out of 5.

The second book in the Truly Devious series picks up right where the first left off with even more mystery, intrigue and action keeping me glued to the page.

Ellingham Academy was established in 1936 but quickly became the site of an unsolved murder and kidnapping. Years later, amateur sleuth Stevie Bell is determined to solve the case. When she is invited to the school, she hopes to figure out the clues no one else has been able to, that is until one of her classmates is murdered and another goes missing. Her parents have her come home, but she is willing to do anything to get back to the school and the mystery. When Senator Edward King, an unlikely source, helps her get back to the academy she is reunited with his son David, who lied about who he was to her when they first met. Now Stevie has bigger problems to worry about than David and his father: where did the murderer hide? What does the riddle mean? And how does it all tie together?

I am falling in love with the Truly Devious series. Stevie is a feisty protagonist that is fun to follow along on her adventures solving mysteries. There were nice twists and turns that I enjoyed, especially the way Stevie made it back to Ellingham. There is more depth for Stevie and most of the characters that brings the story to a higher level. My only real complaint for this one would be when a scene involved Vi, the way the pronouns were they/them just confused me. I’m not saying I have a problem with that issue, but not having encountered this issue in person. I just got confused with what was happening. Were we talking about multiple characters? Or just one? I know that it is becoming more common and I’m sure it will be more explained to me in the future. Any other scene was engaging, fun and full of tension that kept me glued to the page until the very end. New clues brought about answers to some of the questions while leaving some unanswered to be a solved in the next installment. I ended up starting this series with book four without realizing it and once I finished, I had to dive into the first three in the series. These are great books that I recommend to those that enjoy mystery, thrills, and adolescent angst.

Truly Devious

Author: Maureen Johnson

Series: Truly Devious #1

Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books

Release Date: January 16, 2018

Rating: 4 out of 5.

A fun and exciting tale of mystery, murder, cold cases, and an exclusive academy for gifted students to come and learn makes for an engaging read that was just plain fun.

Albert Ellingham always wanted to give back to others and show that learning is best when viewed as a game. He established Ellingham Academy in the foothills of Vermont for the best and brightest. It wasn’t long after the school was opened before disaster struck, Albert’s wife and daughter were kidnapped and sent clues as riddles by someone calling himself Truly Devious. Years later, Stevie Bell, a true crime obsessed teen makes her way to Ellingham Academy; she wants to finish out her school years there but also solve the mystery of what happened all those years ago. Just as Stevie is starting to figure out the mystery, Truly Devious returns bringing death back to Ellingham Academy. Murders from both past and present collide in this fantastic start to a wonderful series.

I have to say that I started this series out of order, I read the fourth book not realizing there were three previous novels in the series. I loved the fourth so much I had to start at the beginning. Truly Devious is the start of a magnificent series; Stevie Bell is a fun and engaging protagonist as a modern-day Sherlock to seek out the answers no one else has been able to find. Stevie along with her new housemates turn the story into a game of Clue, who did it, how and why. So many questions to answer, only some are answered in this edition of the series, my guess is all will be answered by the end of the series. The mystery of what happened in the past and how it ties into the present time is what kept me glued to the page. Stevie has a tenacity about her and the way she won’t give up until the case is solved makes her a precocious yet engaging character. Her relationship with the others in the house is a high point that made me relate to her even more; going to a new school is hard, what makes it even harder is going to the school to solve a murder no one else has been able to solve for decades. Even though not all the answers were wrapped up at the end, I was satisfied with the conclusion but left thirsty for more. I can’t wait to see what the next in the series has in store. I recommend this for those that love Young Adult mysteries with lots of twists and turns. My only negative would be the little adult language used throughout, not a lot but enough to make me hesitant to recommend to younger readers.

Escape from the Everglades

Author: Tim Shoemaker

Series: High Water #1

Publisher: Focus on the Family

Release Date: July 6, 2021

Rating: 5 out of 5.

A fantastic thriller for young adults that is fierce, gripping, and full of more suspense and less fluff, making for a wonderful read!

Parker Buckman is the son of a park ranger stationed in the Everglades, a place full of danger both in the water and out of it. When Parker ends up mauled by an alligator and almost dies, he can’t help but see it as a place full of death. The only thing he wants is to get out while he still has a chance. His dad puts in for a transfer, but before they can leave, a friend goes missing.  Parker knows can’t leave until he helps find her. Together with his friends, they search high and low throughout the Everglades and discover alligators aren’t the only monsters they are facing.

The first thing I have to say about this book is WOW!! There was so much suspense and action I felt like I was getting a workout as my heart rate got high at times. I loved the action and suspense, especially for a young adult. The next thing that made it such a great read for me was the fact that it was clean, there was no language, it never got too graphic and I will feel completely comfortable letting my eleven-year-old son read this one. So many young adult novels out there are filled with content that I just don’t feel comfortable exposing my kids to. I am grateful for authors that have figured out how to write a great thriller for young adults without filling it with language or content I wouldn’t approve of them reading. This was definitely an adventurous read with the alligator attacks and drama on land. Both boys and girls will love this one I believe, something there for everyone to enjoy. I recommend this to readers that enjoy a high suspense read with very little fluff to fill the pages, great characters and a storyline that is riveting.

I received a complimentary copy of this title from the publisher.  The views and opinions expressed within are my own.

The Box in the Woods

Author: Maureen Johnson

Series: Truly Devious Mystery #4

Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books

Release Date: June 15, 2021

Rating: 5 out of 5.

A fantastic YA thriller that kept me enthralled in the story and unable to put it down!

Stevie Bell needs a good mystery. She helped catch a killer at her high school and now she feels lost with nothing to do having to live a normal, boring life. Then, she gets a message from the new owner of Sunny Pines, formally called Camp Wonder Falls, where there is an unsolved case from decades ago. The Box in the Woods Murders, four camp counselors were killed in the woods and their bodies left on display outside Barlow Corners. The new owner of the camp wants the mystery solved and brings in Stevie to help. Stevie is curious about the case and agrees to come if she can bring some of her friends. As they arrive at the camp and start investigating, it quickly becomes clear that someone doesn’t want them there. The more they investigate things, the more danger they are in and this just might be the case Stevie doesn’t make it out alive from.

First off, I did not realize this was the fourth in a series when I started this book, I didn’t even realize it until I finished. That being said, I was fully able to enjoy this story without having read the first three in the series. The characters were fun, witty, interesting, and full of vigor that kept me glued to the page. They were like a modern-day Scooby gang solving mysteries together. Even though Stevie is young, it wasn’t hard for me to believe her and the way she went about solving the crimes. She found clues that no one else was able to find and put them all together just like the pieces of a puzzle. After reading it, I am dying to go back and read the first in the series and see where it all started and how these characters came together. The story had a great flow to it and tension at all the right spots. The back and forth timelines can sometimes throw things off and take readers out of the story, but here it brought the story to a whole new level. This was my first time reading a book by Maureen Johnson, but it definitely won’t be my last. I recommend this to readers that love a good mystery and having it solved in just the right way.

I received a complimentary copy of this title from the publisher.  The views and opinions expressed within are my own.

Denied

Author: Mary Keliikoa

Series: Kelly Pruett Mystery #2

Publisher: Self

Release Date: May 11, 2021

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Crafty, clever, and totally unexpected!

PI Kelly Pruett is recovering from her last case after taking over her father’s PI business, when she is approached by a friend from the past.  A very pregnant friend is looking into why she hasn’t heard from her father since she has been trying to contact him for over a month.  They had a falling out a few months ago and now she wants to make amends before she has the baby so that he or she can know their grandfather.  As Kelly dives into the case, she discovers a world of gambling, mafia, sickness, betrayal, and illegal dumping.  Can Kelly unravel the case before someone silences her from uncovering the truth?

I haven’t read the first book in this series, but the second pulled me in quickly and did a good job of filling in some backstory.  I’m sure there would have been more had I read the first, but I think this can be a standalone.  Kelly is a very strong woman to be going through everything with her ex-husband, ex-best friend, and PI business.  Her persistence and perseverance was fun to watch when she just couldn’t let things drop. I also like the supporting role of Detective Kuni and hope to see more of him in future stories.  I also thought that tying in the experiences of living with a deaf daughter was a neat aspect.  I plan to go back and get the first to tie it all together, but I’m also looking forward to the next installment.

I received a complimentary copy of this title from the publisher.  The views and opinions expressed within are my own.