Sunday, July 24, 2016

Ray's Reviews: A Most Curious Murder by Michigan Author Elizabeth Kane Buzzelli


       “A Most Curious Murder” by Mancelona MI author Elizabeth Kane Buzzelli (Crooked Lane, $25.99) is a bizarre cozy mystery overflowing with odd, quirky characters.

        It’s one of those books aimed at a very specific audience that’s likely to disappoint many other readers.
        This is a debut novel in a new "Little Library Mystery" series that’s set in the small town of Bear Lake MI.

        It stars Jenny Weston, who’s frustrated after a nasty divorce; she’s moved back from Chicago to recover. She’s recuperating at the house she grew up in, staying with her mother Dora.

        All sorts of things seem to go wrong after Jenny arrives – earlier, her mother’s beloved little lending library was destroyed outside their home - the books were ruined.

        Jenny meets a strange new neighbor, Zoe Zola, her mother’s friend, an outspoken “little person” worried about the situation.

        Zoe is a successful writer working on a book about Lewis Carroll and his most famous creation, "Alice in Wonderland”.

        Jenny and Zoe decide to do their own investigating – they suspect the culprit is Adam Cane, a cranky, reclusive neighbor from a wealthy family. 

        Their work becomes considerably more challenging when Adam is discovered murdered in Zoe’s fairy garden.

        The town’s police chief, who went to school with Jenny, believes Zoe did it.

        Jenny is joined by Tony, a handsome carpenter who’s an ex-cop; more investigation turns up few clues and another dead body.

        Zoe’s held for questioning, a lawyer gets involved and other complications muddle the case.

        Jenny’s womanizing, alcoholic ex-boyfriend, who’s got many personal problems, is also a suspect; Jenny doesn’t have fond memories of their abrupt earlier break-up years earlier.

        While the book is entertaining at times, Zoe’s dialogue is very confusing – even if you’re an “Alice” fan. There’s a touch of romance, but lots of anxiety and little humor.

        Most characters aren’t particularly likable – after a while, I just didn’t really care who destroyed the lending library or committed the murders.

        After a few hundred pages, I started peeking to see how much more I still had to read – never a good sign.

        Buzzelli has written eight other novels, including three using the pseudonym of Elizabeth Lee.

        Ray Walsh, owner of East Lansing’s Curious Book Shop, has reviewed crime
novels and Michigan books regularly since 1987. One of his favorite books
is Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland.”


Find this book and other great titles
at the Curious Book Shop, an independent 
book shop in East Lansing, founded in 1969.

Curious Book Shop
307 East Grand River Avenue
East Lansing, Michigan
517.332.0112

This review was originally published by the Lansing State Journal on July 24, 2016.

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Sunday, July 10, 2016

Ray's Reviews: Devil's Grace by Local Author Karen Dean Benson


       “Devil’s Grace” by Bath author Karen Dean Benson (Satin Romance, $15.95) is a compelling historical romance that’s subtitled “Renn Arelia’s Story.”  Benson is a member of East Lansing’s MSUCC Creative Writing
Group.

        It’s an intriguing debut novel, the first in her “Ladies of Mischief” series, set in the late 1700’s in England and Spain.

        The well-designed 290-page trade paperback showcases eighteen-year-old, beautiful Renn Arelia Sheridan, who’s orphaned when her parents tragically drown in a carriage accident.

        She enjoys teaching young children, but her new guardians, a duke and duchess, have other ideas. They tell her that her parents, who ran prosperous horse-breeding stables, left her nothing.

        The pair have searched Renn’s room and the entire manor, looking for a valuable emerald locket. They put the location up for sale and dismiss the staff, forcing Renn to go with them to the ancestral Chippenham estate in London.

        They have other devious plans for her, including an arranged marriage to a wealthy, obnoxious French Marquis.

        When strong-willed Renn rebuffs the betrothal, she gets into real trouble; she quickly makes her escape into the dark night.

        She’s almost run over by a carriage and is picked up by handsome Sebastian Navarre, Spanish Captain of “The Wind Devil”.

        Renn is soon aboard his ship, wanting to dropped-off at Gravesend, where she plans to teach in an orphanage.

        An unexpected romance occurs, the intrigue never stops and the swiftly-paced book soon becomes impossible to put down.

        Benson’s terrific tale is full of well-developed characters, carefully-researched locales and settings, believable dialogue, dangerous threats and a brooding air of tension.

        Her second volume in the series “Mission Song - Chenoa’s Story” (Satin Romance, $16.95) is a stand-alone novel that’s set in the 1830’s.

         It follows the journey of a young woman who escapes the suffocating restrictions of a Boston convent, returning to Carmel, Alta California, where she was born.

        As in Benson’s first book, there are many family secrets, unusual relationships, thwarted romance and violence; a nasty, vengeful character with evil intentions must be stopped.

        “Mulberry Bend – Aisling’s Story”, the third entry in the series, set in the 1860’s, has numerous surprises as well; it’s scheduled for release later this summer.

        More information is available at www.karendeanbenson.com.

        Ray Walsh, owner of East Lansing’s Curious Book Shop, 
has reviewed books by Michigan authors and crime novels regularly since 1987.





Find this book and other great titles
at the Curious Book Shop, an independent 
book shop in East Lansing, founded in 1969.

Curious Book Shop
307 East Grand River Avenue
East Lansing, Michigan
517.332.0112

This review was originally published by the Lansing State Journal on July 10, 2016.

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Sunday, July 3, 2016

Ray's Reviews: Double Tap by Peter McGarvey

If you’re looking for bizarre, adrenaline-charged entertainment, “Double Tap”, by Canadian author Peter McGarvey (Cliff House Publishing, $14.95) should certainly be on your reading list.


It is likely to have specialized appeal however, as the entertaining crime novel has many deadly scenes of violence and sexual overtones.


More than half of the characters end up as corpses in a variety of often-gruesome murder scenes – untraceable to the main characters Rip Hunter and his sidekick Wilma.


Operating as expensive contract killers out of Detroit, the deadly duo are quite successful, relying exclusively on recommendations from their many satisfied customers.


This well-researched trade paperback is laced with dark humor, focusing on the incredible and sometimes improbable lengths the psychopaths will go to get information.


Against his better judgment, Rip takes on an unusual assignment – track down the killers of a prominent Senator for the Senator’s daughter.


It’s odd because he already knows the answer – Rip and Wilma did the unsolved crime three years earlier; they have to dig much deeper to discover the source of the money given to the person who hired them.


Their crime-laden journey gets them into many hectic confrontations, including deadly action with mobsters, renegade bikers, crooked cops, a nasty prison guard, a satanic cult, sadistic reclusive billionaires, hungry alligators and much, much more.


Intriguing characters abound, including a clever therapist, power-driven inmates, assorted geniuses, other successful hitmen and a pretty drug-smuggler.


The action doesn’t take place only in Detroit; the blood-spattered tale begins in Switzerland and moves around the country with conflict in a Michigan prison, a whiteout snowstorm in Buffalo NY and a Class Four hurricane in Charleston SC.


Just when you think “What else can possibly go wrong?” something does – their use of a truth serum and a drone gets unexpected, often surprising results.


While the characters names are occasionally annoying, the carefully-concocted, convoluted plot has an ending that’s impossible to predict.


This is the second book in a series, following “Hair-Trigger”, where Rip and Wilma break their own rules and get into lots of trouble.


McGarvey is also the author of two books in the Molly Parsons series, “Dark Sunset” and “Bloody Sunset” starring a Michigan small-town police officer with a haunted past.


More information is available at www.petermcgarvey.com.


        Ray Walsh, owner of East Lansing’s Curious Book Shop, has reviewed crime
novels and Michigan books regularly since 1987.



Find this book and other great titles
at the Curious Book Shop, an independent 
book shop in East Lansing, founded in 1969.

Curious Book Shop
307 East Grand River Avenue
East Lansing, Michigan
517.332.0112

This review was originally published by the Lansing State Journal on July 3, 2016.

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Sunday, June 26, 2016

Ray's Reviews: Joseph Heywood's Buckular Dystrophy


 “Buckular Dystrophy” by Joseph Heywood (Lyons Press, $26.95) is the tenth book in his popular Woods Cop series starring veteran Michigan game warden Grady Service.

        Set almost exclusively in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, the entertaining book is more of a series of vignettes loosely tied together by assorted plot threads.

        It showcases hard-working Service with an unlikely partner, his crafty archrival Limpy Allerdyce, who’s out of jail now and says he’s reformed.

        Taking place mostly in a two-month time period before and during 2009 Michigan deer hunting season, Heywood’s novel focuses on the craziness that occurs each year at this time in the UP.

        It’s a large wilderness area with numerous hunting camps, few big bucks, eager poachers, strange interlopers, clever hunters and an unusual assortment of peculiar characters.

        Service and Allerdyce get involved in many bizarre cases, tracking down clues in the best police procedural manner.

        They find hunters without licenses, illegal profiteers, deer heads without tags, weird relationships, impressive mounts, illegal blinds and much, much more.

        Heywood is, however, an acquired taste that may not be easy for all mystery readers to enjoy. The dialogue is challenging at times as the author utilizes dialect to the extreme, twisting verbiage in a manner that makes it difficult for the serious speed reader.

        It certainly may be realistic - and the way that many Yoopers talk, but it doesn’t make it any easier for the unfamiliar reader.

         Those expecting clear closure to the assorted criminal incidents will also have to be very patient – until the last page-and-a-half of the book - where the author provides an accounting of the cases and the results.

        Service gets considerable assistance from other conservation officers, associates, judges and diligent federal law enforcement professionals.

        Dark humor and detailed realism abound; there’s still room for more Service and/or Allerdyce encounters.
        It’s best to follow the intriguing adventures of Grady Service by reading the “Woods Cop” series in order, following the conservation officer’s growth through triumph and tragedy.

        Dedicated Heywood fans may also enjoy two other books that feature similar characters in excellent recent short story collections: “Hard Ground” and “More Hard Ground.”

        The 1965 MSU graduate’s website is: josephheywood.com, although ironically there’s only minimal mention of his latest book.

        Ray Walsh, owner of East Lansing’s Curious Book Shop, has reviewed crime
novels and Michigan books regularly since 1987.


Find this book and other great titles
at the Curious Book Shop, an independent 
book shop in East Lansing, founded in 1969.

Curious Book Shop
307 East Grand River Avenue
East Lansing, Michigan
517.332.0112

This review was originally published by the Lansing State Journal on June 26, 2016.

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Sunday, June 12, 2016

Ray's Reviews: Zigzag by Bill Pronzini


        “Zigzag”, by award-winning veteran author Bill Pronzini (Forge Books, $24.95) is the latest in his popular series starring a main character known only “The Nameless Detective.”


        This isn’t your usual hard-boiled detective novel, instead it’s an intriguing collection of two novellas and two short stories.

        “Zigzag” is a 120-page novella that starts out as a simple accident investigation.

        It soon escalates into much more, especially when the semi-retired private investigator discovers a pair of dead bodies and a dead dog outside of an isolated cabin.

        He does the smart thing and calls the cops, but finds that his challenges are just beginning. He decides to look into the case a bit more, helping out the wife of one of the victims.

        Pronzini, who’s received the Grand Master Award from the Mystery Writers of America, has a great reputation for deftly creating unexpected plot twists – and this convoluted tale is no exception.

        “Grapplin”, which originally appeared in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, focuses on a murder and a missing persons case – dating back to 1963 in New Orleans.

        The Nameless Detective, as usual, asks many questions, uncovering useful information before getting satisfying results.

        “Nightscape”, which also appeared in Ellery Queen’s, starts off with an odd incident at a 24 Hour Diner. The main character and his partner are trying to track down a deadbeat dad who owes more than $30,000 in child support to his ex for their two kids.

        Things get a little wild and there’s a brief flurry of violence as a fight ensues - from a different source.

        The Nameless Detective offers insights: “Funny business, detective work. Crazy business sometimes. Mostly it’s a lot of dull routine, with small triumphs and as much frustration as satisfaction. But once in a great while, something happens that not only makes it all worthwhile but defies the laws of probability.”

        Pronzini makes it all believable, with strong characters, creative storytelling and a great understanding of human emotions and behavior.

        “Revenant” is an exceptionally bizarre case, where the hero again gets involved in a peculiar life-or-death situation.

        The author has written over 40 books in the Nameless Detective series over the last four decades; it’s fun to watch the characters grow, priorities shift and lifestyle changes occur.




        Ray Walsh, owner of East Lansing’s Curious Book Shop, has reviewed crime
novels and Michigan books regularly since 1987.



Find this book and other great titles
at the Curious Book Shop, an independent 
book shop in East Lansing, founded in 1969.

Curious Book Shop
307 East Grand River Avenue
East Lansing, Michigan
517.332.0112

This review was originally published by the Lansing State Journal on June 12, 2016.

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Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Ray's Reviews: Extreme Pray by Sandford


  “Extreme Prey” by John Sandford (Putnam, $29) is the latest in his best-selling series starring Lucas Davenport, who used to work for the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension.



        He’s left the organization and is fixing up his Wisconsin cabin when an old friend, Minnesota governor Elmer Henderson, asks him for help.

        Henderson, who’s running for President, believes there’s a very real threat by extremists to another candidate in his party, Michaela Bowden.

        The campaign is now in Iowa; Davenport agrees to investigate and discovers a wide variety of extremists and activists.

        Marlys Purdy, in her fifties, with white, curly hair, has many anger issues dating back thirty years ago, when she and her husband lost their 480-acre farm and a $300,000 mortgage down payment.

        Her husband killed himself two years later; she’s very bitter, as is Cole, one of her sons, who served in Iraq but came back with mental problems after being injured in a bomb attack.

        She’s a  fringe member of a few radical political groups; Davenport starts investigating but has very few leads.

        Working under significant time constraints, Davenport feels like he’s a human ping-pong ball, bouncing around the state. He gets help from a variety of Iowa police departments and state cops, desperately searching
for information.

        Davenport tries to get Bowden to cancel an appearance at the Iowa State Fair with little success – despite major additional security, he’s sure that her life will be in danger.

        The Purdy’s have their own clever plans – and murderous ways – the body count raises as the cold-blooded killers proceed.

        Longtime Sandford fans won’t be disappointed in his latest Lucas Davenport novel, even if there are only minor appearances by family members or Virgil Flowers.

        It’s full of well-developed characters, significant violence and insightful views of contemporary politics.

        This is an investigative procedural crime novel; the last third of the book is so exceptionally fast-paced that the reader can’t turn the pages quickly enough.

        It’s a mesmerizing tale torn from today’s electoral headlines and really should have a red-white-and-blue cover design.

        His last book, “Gathering Prey”, (Putnam. $9.99) mostly set in Michigan, is now out in paperback.

        For more information, visit his official website www.johnsandford.org and click on website directory.




        Ray Walsh, owner of East Lansing’s Curious Book Shop, has reviewed crime 
novels and Michigan books regularly since 1987.


Find this book and other great Sandford titles
at the Curious Book Shop, an independent 
book shop in East Lansing, founded in 1969.

Curious Book Shop
307 East Grand River Avenue
East Lansing, Michigan
517.332.0112

This review was originally published by the Lansing State Journal on May 1, 2016.

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Sunday, April 24, 2016

Ray's Reviews: Book Cover Designs by Matthew Goodman


        “Book Cover Designs” by Matthew Goodman (Schiffer, $34.99) is a thick, heavy, oversize paperback that’s full of gorgeous photographs.



        These striking images of colorful artwork used for hardback and paperback book covers are fascinating and intriguing from the perspective of a reader, book collector or graphic designer.

        If you feel like you really want to judge a book by its cover – this is a great place to start. Many of the vivid, carefully crafted designs do exactly what they are supposed to do – get your attention, whether now or on the bookshelf when you’re browsing in a book store.

        This well-researched volume includes artwork on a wide variety of subjects including fiction and non-fiction, although there’s relatively little science fiction artwork.

        There are more than 500 images from over 50 different designers, arranged in groupings alphabetically – by the designer’s first names. This can be a little frustrating to the average reader, who may be looking for artwork by a particular designer but might not remember their first name.

        Each grouping includes an image of the designer and a very brief description of their techniques or methodology.

        These one-page introductions to the designer are printed in very small type using quite light ink, making it difficult to read – in stark contrast to the bright colorful graphic cover designs.  Book and photo credits are in even smaller, lighter type!

        Here’s a partial description of David High’s designer’s approach, which is very similar to many others: “…My process is pretty much the same for every book. Read as much of the manuscript as is available and initially do what I think is best for the book, using the ideas that come while reading. Go over notes from client/editor/author and second-guess everything. Do a “gazillion” alternatives. Rest. Look at everything fresh and try to edit down. Procrastinate. Panic. Do some frantic-last minute- down-to-the-wire solutions…”

        This is a book full of memorable and sometimes disturbing, knockout graphics, offering a highly creative view of contemporary book design.

        There are many bright images of books that you’re likely to have never seen – by unfamiliar authors. There are also cover designs for writers like Albert Camus or Jack Kerouac – designed to appeal to a new generation of readers.

        The author’s website is www.publishingdesigner.com.


        Ray Walsh, owner of East Lansing’s Curious Book Shop, has reviewed books regularly since 1987.




Find this book and other great titles
at the Curious Book Shop, an independent 
book shop in East Lansing, founded in 1969.

Curious Book Shop
307 East Grand River Avenue
East Lansing, Michigan
517.332.0112

This review was originally published by the Lansing State Journal on April 24, 2016.

Read More...