Thursday, October 31, 2019

Review: Blue Moon by Lee Child

Jack Reacher is back and Kerry Hammond is here to tell us what he’s up to.

Blue Moon by Lee Child was published on October 29, in Hardcover, by Delacorte Press. It is the 24th book in the widely read and critically acclaimed Jack Reacher series. In case you’ve been living in a cave for the previous 23 books, Jack Reacher is a former Army MP who wanders the country, standing up for the underdog and providing his own kind of justice to those who can’t find it otherwise.

In Blue Moon, Reacher gets off a bus and helps an elderly man from an attempted mugging. He soon gets wrapped up in a turf war between two groups; the Albanians rule one part of the city and the Ukrainians the other. Local law enforcement can do nothing to stop them, or are currently being paid off, and the citizens are powerless. Reacher does not like this. Reacher feels he needs to even the playing field. It’s one man against two powerful organizations, but if anyone can do it, Reacher can.

I always enjoy these books. The reader is always guaranteed that the good guys will prevail, the bad guys will die a horrible death, and law and order will be re-established in whatever part of the country Reacher has just visited.

This book was provided to Mystery Playground by the publisher. The review was fair and completely independent.

You can always find Mystery Playground on Twitter @mysteryplaygrnd and on Facebook. You can also follow the blog by clicking the link on the upper right-hand corner of this webpage. 

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Review: Two Bites Too Many by Debra H. Goldstein

Debra H. Goldstein has a new cozy mystery out and Kerry Hammond is here with her review.

Two Bites Too Many by Debra H. Goldstein released in Mass Market Paperback on September 24 by Kensington. It is the second book in the Sarah Blair mystery series and my first read by Goldstein, who is also the author of two other mystery novels and quite a few short stories. I love to try out a new cozy series and thought I’d give Sarah Blair a try.

In Two Bites Too Many, we find Sarah divorced and settling in with the Siamese cat she inherited named RahRah. Sarah works at a law office but her twin sister, Emily, is a professional chef who is trying desperately to open a new restaurant. The bank loan has been denied and Sarah and Emily’s mother, Maybelle, ropes Sarah into a visit with Lance, the bank president, to try and make him reconsider.

After some coaxing, Lance agrees to look at the loan application again, but dismisses the ladies to prepare for a city council meeting. Maybelle, never one to let things go, decides to go back and speak to him, entering through the alley door to his office where good friends and close business associates sometimes enter. What Maybelle finds is Lance’s dead body and a murder weapon with her fingerprints on it. Caught between her sister’s struggle with the restaurant and her mother’s possible arrest for murder, Sarah finds herself looking into each and every townsperson who had a grudge against Lance. If she doesn’t prove her mother’s innocence, who will?

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Jumping into book two wasn’t a problem at all, I felt that the author did a good job of alluding to past events without giving away too much information, so I can now go back to book one without any spoilers. I liked the cast of characters and the mystery provided enough of a challenge that there were surprises for me in the end. Another cozy series that I can look forward to following.

This book was provided to Mystery Playground by the publisher. The review was fair and completely independent.

You can always find Mystery Playground on Twitter @mysteryplaygrnd and on Facebook. You can also follow the blog by clicking the link on the upper right-hand corner of this webpage.

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Review: Strangers at the Gate by Catriona McPherson

Catriona McPherson has released a new standalone novel and Kerry Hammond is here with her review.

Strangers at the Gate by Catriona McPherson was published on October 22, in Hardcover, by Minotaur Books. I am a fan of all of McPherson’s books, from her Dandy Gilver series to her standalones. I look forward to each and every one of her new releases because you just never know where she’s going to take the reader.

When I started Strangers at the Gate, I wasn’t sure if McPherson could pull it off. We start with a young couple who have landed dream jobs in the quiet countryside. Paddy is a new partner of a law firm and Finn has gotten a position as deacon of a church. It’s almost too good to be true and they set off to live in the gate house of the property owned by Paddy’s new boss.

The young couple seems to be on track and I, as a reader, wondered where this could all go. Then they get invited to dinner at the boss’s house and have a great night getting to know him and his wife. When Finn forgets her purse and goes back to the house to get it, she finds their hosts' bodies—stabbed and bloodied on the kitchen floor. Any normal couple would call the police and report the crime. But not Paddy and Finn, they go home and panic.

What follows is what happens when you don’t report a crime, when you learn that your significant other has even more secrets than you do, and when you find out that there is way more to the new jobs and new life than you originally thought.

I got sucked in right away. At first I thought it was unbelievable that the couple wouldn’t just call the police and report the death—for at the time they didn’t know if it was murder or suicide. But the more I leaned, the more I understood what drove them to wait. They were basically digging themselves deeper and deeper into a hole and I really wanted to see how they would get out. I really enjoyed the ride!

This book was provided to Mystery Playground by the publisher. The review was fair and completely independent.

You can always find Mystery Playground on Twitter @mysteryplaygrnd and on Facebook. You can also follow the blog by clicking the link on the upper right-hand corner of this webpage. 

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Review: Little Voices by Vanessa Lillie

Kerry Hammond is here to give us her review of a new psychological thriller by a debut author.

Little Voices by Vanessa Lillie was published on October 1, in Trade Paperback, by Thomas & Mercer. It is the author’s debut and promised to be a gripping novel psychological suspense. How could I pass up the chance to check out a new author?

Devon didn’t plan for motherhood to happen quite the way it did, with a premature birth and a traumatic delivery that threatened to take both her life and that of her baby girl. When she is finally released from the hospital, rather than enjoy her new family and motherhood, she learns that her friend Belina has been murdered. It happened on the very day she went into labor, the last day she saw Belina. Devon can’t seem to stop thinking about what might have happened and when the police accuse her college friend, Alec, of Belina’s murder, she feels she needs to step in. The problem is, the police are telling her to stay out of it, the voices in her head are telling her she’s a horrible mother, and Alec isn’t telling her the information she needs to clear his name.

Devon was like a dog with a bone as she tried to solve her friend’s murder. We didn’t learn as much about the women’s friendship as I would have liked, but it was clear that Devon’s need to find the killer came from something inside her, some inner turmoil, as much as it did her connection to Belina. As the story progresses, we learn more about Devon’s struggle with the voices in her head and what is really driving her to obsess about the murder.

The novel is set in and around Providence, Rhode Island, amid the fishing boats that struggle to make a living and what appears to be the class structure that exists depending on which side of the city you live. The author drew me into the setting as much as she did the characters and plot. Just when it seemed that every novel takes place in New York City, this one was a pleasant switch to a state that many, like me, know next to nothing about. I could visualize the harsh winter, the sea air, and the fishermen who brave the weather for their next catch. I will definitely look forward to the author’s next book.

This book was provided to Mystery Playground by the publisher. The review was fair and completely independent.

You can always find Mystery Playground on Twitter @mysteryplaygrnd and on Facebook. You can also follow the blog by clicking the link on the upper right-hand corner of this webpage. 

Monday, October 21, 2019

Review: The Lies We Tell by Debra Webb

Sharon Long is here today to review book two in a dark series by Debra Webb.

The Lies We Tell by Debra Webb is the second installment in The Undertaker’s Daughter series. It was released on September 17, in paperback, by Harper Collins. Webb is an award-winning, bestselling author of more than 130 novels. I was intrigued by a character who was an undertaker’s daughter and was excited to read this one.

Dr. Rowan DuPont is a psychiatrist and former member of the Special Crimes Unit, and she is currently working as an undertaker. The book opens with her visiting 71-year-old Herman Carter in the county jail in Winchester, Tennessee. Carter was a family friend whom she once trusted but who had deceived her. He had been writing to Rowan for over five months and finally, she decided to visit. Her decision was largely based on wanting to know the truth behind her mother and her twin sister’s deaths; Rowan is sure Herman knows more about these deaths than he is letting on. She wants information where Herman wants forgiveness. Rowan agrees to write down her questions and let Police Chief Billy Brannigan give them to Herman.

After her visit, she returns to the DuPont funeral home, a business that has been in her family for 150 years. She has a body to prepare for burial. She begins the process and is startled by a vine tattoo that goes from the dead man’s neck down to the center of his back, where a wreath of thorns surrounds the name Norah. How could her mother’s name be on this man’s body? Rowan does not know this man and in Winchester, everyone knows everyone. Her search begins, she is determined to find out why her mother’s name is on this body, and more importantly, if that is what led to her mother’s suicide. What she doesn’t realize is that her former mentor-turned-serial-killer is waiting for her.

What I enjoyed most was the plot, or should I say plots, in this story. This book has three great things: an old Victorian house, a small hometown where the residents have secrets, and a serial killer. I loved the author’s character development of Rowan and Billy, her childhood friend who has always been by her side. These two characters are believable and likable; as I read, I could see being friends with both. This mystery also had a touch of romance in the storyline. I was a bit hesitant to start with book two in a series, but I felt that it read like a standalone.  

This book was provided to Mystery Playground by the publisher. The review was fair and completely independent.

You can always find Mystery Playground on Twitter @mysteryplaygrnd and on Facebook. You can also follow the blog by clicking the link on the upper right-hand corner of this webpage.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Review: A Bitter Feast by Deborah Crombie

A Bitter Feast by Deborah Crombie is the 18th book in the Duncan Kinkaid and Gemma James mystery series. It was published on October 8, in Hardcover, by William Morrow. I'm a huge fan of Kincaid and James, and although I haven't read every book in the series, I have followed along as the characters have changed and their personal and professional lives have progressed. 

A Bitter Feast had me from the get go. I love me a good London based murder mystery, but when the action takes place in a small English village, this American is all ears, or eyes as it were. Duncan and Gemma, two Scotland Yard Detectives that happen to be married, are headed to the country to stay with their friend Melody, also a police officer, at her family home in the Cotswolds.

Meanwhile, in the Cotswolds, we have Viv, a former London chef who is enjoying the quiet life and cooking with fresh, locale ingredients. Unfortunately, a stranger in town, a car crash, and an unexpected murder turn the sleepy little village upside down. Duncan and Gemma find themselves in the middle of another murder, even if they aren't the lead investigators.

I've read a bunch of books in this series, but I read a lot of books in between as well. Even though it's book 18, it really did stand on its own. If you just pick this book up and start the series here, you will still enjoy the read. The characters have shared history, but that history adds to the depth of the books, knowledge of it is in no way required for the mystery or reading enjoyment. 

Friday, October 4, 2019

Tara Laskowski, One Night Gone and The Allison and The Maureen

Award-winning author, Tara Laskowski, joins us today on Drinks with Reads to celebrate the publication of her debut novel, One Night Gone. She has previously published two short story collections, one of which was named a best book of 2017 by Jennifer Egan in The Guardian. Her Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine story, "The Case of the Vanishing Professor" won the 2019 Agatha Award and her Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine story, "States of the Matter," was selected by Amy Hempel for the 2017 Best Small Fictions anthology. Tara was the winner of the 2010 Santa Fe Writers Project's Literary Awards Prize. Let's see what drinks she's picked for One Night Gone.

My debut novel, One Night Gone, is set in Opal Beach, a fictional town on the New Jersey shore. It has two points of view and two timelines—Maureen, a teenager, has come to Opal Beach during the height of summer in the 1980s. Allison, a recently divorced 40-year-old, is house-sitting in Opal Beach during the offseason in 2015. 

Both women are drawn to the beach town as a way to escape their past and start anew. But both find trouble there—Maureen vanishes by the end of the summer, and when Allison begins looking into the teenager’s disappearance nearly 30 years later, she discovers that the residents of Opal Beach like their secrets to stay buried.

Beyond that, Allison and Maureen are very different people with very different life experiences. For that reason, I knew they each needed drinks that represented not only their personalities, but also the time of year in which they visit Opal Beach.

The Allison, aka a Seafoam Sangria, has beachy hints to it, but it’s more sophisticated with its wine base. Sweet—but not overly so—and subdued, the drink is easy to sip but doesn’t scream “BEACH PARTY!!!” It’s a drink you’d enjoy in early autumn on an expansive wooden deck while gazing out at the horizon.

On the other hand, The Maureen, aka The Blue Mermaid, is a beach drink to be reckoned with. Pineapple chunks, cherries, paper umbrellas, pink flamingos—all these garnishes would be happy to crowd up in its business. It’s got rum and pineapple juice—a Kool-aid-esque refreshing cocktail that you can drink and drink before you realize you’ve had a little too much. I added a rim of crushed graham cracker “sand” to the drink to give it an even more fun look. (Maureen would enjoy that detail.)

So pick your poison—or make two and sip them alternately while you switch chapters! These drink recipes—along with one other, plus a reader’s guide and some other goodies—are also available on my Book Club Guide on my web site.

Happy beach reading—and drinking!

The Allison (Seafoam Sangria)


  • 3 parts white wine
  • 2 parts blue Hipnotiq liqueur
  • 1 part ginger ale

Mix ingredients together. Serve chilled or over ice.

The Maureen (The Blue Mermaid)

  • ¼ cup ground graham crackers (for rimming)
  • 1 oz Malibu Rum
  • 1 oz Blue Curaçao
  • 1 oz vodka
  • 1/3 cup pineapple juice
  • 1 maraschino cherry

Pulse graham crackers in a food processor until fine, like sand. Place in a shallow bowl. Wet the edge of a double old fashioned glass with water and dip into the graham crackers, rimming the glass. Add ice to the glass, then pour in the rum, blue curacao, vodka, and pineapple juice. Stir. Add a cherry for garnish.

Tara Laskowski’s debut novel One Night Gone was published this week by Graydon House Books. She is also the author of the short story collections Modern Manners for Your Inner Demons, tales of dark etiquette, and Bystanders, which won the Balcones Fiction Prize and was hailed by Jennifer Egan as one of the best books of 2017. She is an Agatha Award winner and a member of Sisters in Crime.

Thursday, October 3, 2019

Review: Buried in the Stacks by Allison Brook

Kerry Hammond is here today to give us her review of the third book in a haunted cozy mystery series.

Buried in the Stacks by Allison Brook was published on September 10, in Hardcover, by Crooked Lane Books. It’s the 3rd book in the Haunted Library Mystery series featuring librarian Carrie Singleton and her library cat Smokey Joe. I’m always game for a cozy mystery set in a library so I decided to jump right in with book three to check it out. Besides, you had me at library cat.

In Buried in the Stacks, Carrie is pining for her boyfriend, Dylan, who is out of town investigating art theft. As much as she misses him, her job as a librarian has been keeping her busy. Several homeless people have taken to seeking refuge in the library, and unfortunately some of them are causing disruptions. Adding to that, her boss has asked her to take on the role of Sunshine Delegate, whose job it is to send good wishes to sick employees. Her first recipient is none other than her least favorite colleague, Dorothy, a woman who has caused Carrie a lot of trouble in the past. Dorothy has had a slip and fall at the supermarket and is laid up in the hospital.

Carrie does her duty and Dorothy is soon released from the hospital. She seems to be on the mend when, just a few days later, someone runs her off the road and the police find themselves investigating a murder. Dorothy’s penchant for blackmail is soon uncovered and the pool of suspects is a mile long. Carrie once again sticks her nose into police business and starts investigating Dorothy’s murder. In her defense, it’s at the insistence of Evelyn, Dorothy’s aunt. Evelyn died a few years back and her ghost lives at the library. Carrie and her young niece are the only ones who can see her.

It sounds like a lot to follow but the story flowed very smoothly. I liked the characters and had no problem with the fact that Evelyn appeared now and then to communicate with Carrie. The murder couldn’t have happened to a more deserving person, and I enjoyed following along with Carrie as she looked into all the suspects. This is a fun series and an enjoyable read.

This book was provided to Mystery Playground by the publisher. The review was fair and completely independent.

You can always find Mystery Playground on Twitter @mysteryplaygrnd and on Facebook. You can also follow the blog by clicking the link on the upper right-hand corner of this webpage. 

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Review: The Shape of Night by Tess Gerritsen

The weather has turned cool and the leaves are falling, so it's time to curl up with a good book. Tess Gerritsen's latest is a chilling ghost story and Kerry Hammond is here with her review.

The Shape of Night by Tess Gerritsen released on October 1, in Hardcover, by Ballantine Books. Gerritsen is the author of the bestselling series featuring homicide detective Jane Rizzoli and medical examiner Maura Isles. The Shape of Night is her seventh standalone novel. I’ve been a long-time fan of Gerritsen’s work, both her Rizzoli and Isles series and her standalone novels. 

In the book, Ava is a food writer working on a new book. Her manuscript is long overdue and her editor is breathing down her neck, so she leaves her Boston apartment and rents an old house, Brodie’s Watch, that sits on the ocean in a small town in Maine called Tucker’s Cove. As we learn more about Ava, we realize that her book isn’t the only reason she’s decided to spend the summer in Maine, she is also struggling to forget something horrible that happened in her recent past, something she can’t seem to get over.

There are rumors that Brodie’s Watch is haunted, but Ava doesn’t believe in ghosts. Her research tells her that the original owner of the house was a sea captain named Jeremiah Brodie and she finds journals written by and about him. Perhaps it’s the research she’s done, or the wine and whisky she drinks so much of every night to drown her sorrows, but one night Ava sees Captain Brodie. But he doesn’t appear to be an apparition, he appears to be flesh and bone and he’s set his sights on her. Ava isn’t sure why the previous occupant, a woman very similar to herself, left the house in such a hurry, but she starts to wonder if Brodie is disguising more evil intentions.

What a great time for this book to come out, just in time for fall weather when you want to curl up on the couch under a blanket with a good book. Once I started reading, I didn’t want to put the book down. The Shape of Night is a ghost story, a love story, and a mystery—all rolled into one. Gerritsen is a great writer and she kept the pace of the story going, revealing more and more as you went along. I was able to picture the house, the sea, and even the ghost. I really enjoyed the story.

This book was provided to Mystery Playground by the publisher. The review was fair and completely independent.

You can always find Mystery Playground on Twitter @mysteryplaygrnd and on Facebook. You can also follow the blog by clicking the link on the upper right-hand corner of this webpage.  

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Review: The Lying Room by Nicci French

After finishing her award-winning series featuring psychotherapist, Frieda Klein, author Nicci French has written a standalone novel and Sharon Long is here with her review.

The Lying Room by Nicci French releases October 1st, in Hardcover, by William Morrow publishers. Nicci French is the pen name of an English wife-and-husband team, writers of the internationally bestselling Frieda Klein series. This is their first standalone novel in nearly ten years. 

In The Lying Room, Neve is going through her normal morning routine, making breakfast and preparing lunches for her family. She receives a text with no caller ID, but she knows who it is. It’s from Saul, her lover, asking her to meet him at his flat. Once the children have left for school and Fletcher, her artist husband, has left to try and get another one of his jobs, she takes a hot shower. Neve dresses carefully and takes off on her bike. She arrives at the flat but there is no answer, so she uses her key to enter the apartment. She enters the living room and finds Saul's body, lying face up on the floor. He’s dead. 

She pulls out her phone to dial 999 but hesitates. She sees the remains from their dinner last night, the glasses and the unmade bed. Neve thinks about her family and decides she needs to remove any sign of her having been there. She cleans from top to bottom, washing sheets and towels, running the dishwasher and using bleach and rubber gloves to clean any surface she might have touched. When she has taken out the garbage and is satisfied, she locks the door and leaves. Saul's body is discovered later that day and Police Detective Hitching is assigned to investigate. Hitching is determined to find the killer no matter who that leads her to. 

I loved the twists and turns in this well-written psychological thriller. The characters are well developed, including Neve's children: Rory the sensitive boy, Connor who only likes his computer games, and Mabel the problem child who may or may not be going to college. I enjoyed following Neve through her daily life—work, dropping kids off at school, and her interaction with friends and colleagues who seem to always need her. All the while, constantly worrying and rethinking her cleaning spree. This was a wonderful weekend read which I highly enjoyed. I hope this writing couple does not wait another 10 years for their next standalone!

This book was provided to Mystery Playground by the publisher. The review was fair and completely independent.

You can always find Mystery Playground on Twitter @mysteryplaygrnd and on Facebook. You can also follow the blog by clicking the link on the upper right-hand corner of this webpage.