From the very start, I was gripped by this novel. I have to confess that I thought I probably would be, as I’m a huge fan of Aaron Paul Lazar. And this wonderful author didn’t let me down.

Gus and his wife Camille are on a long-awaited and much-needed holiday. But, as is so true when you’re leaving family members behind, they’re torn. They need this break but they miss home too. This is just one of the lovely touches in this book. As with the other novels in this series, there is such a warm domestic background.  In fact warmth is what characterises the book: bad things happen, but there is security and love and loyalty in the background. Gus himself is such a warm likeable character. People can’t help opening up to him, and he can’t help getting involved. Camille is far more than a token sidekick. She’s a strong character, and has a strong role to play in this exciting mystery.

When a car crashes onto the beach close to him, Gus is drawn into a mystery concerning two feuding families. One is dysfunctional in the extreme whilst the other is very close but challenged. Sinister events pull Gus into thrilling events that have their roots in the eighteenth century. We have pirates and lost treasure alongside very modern problems, such a single mum struggling to make a living and also trying to save her baby’s father from the abuse he appears to be suffering at home.

The title Murder on the Brewster Flats is a clever one as there are actually two we learn about – one in the past, connected to the pirate element, and a modern one that puts several other characters in immediate danger. Also clever, there’s a crossover element: Gus and Camille encounter Jack and Scout Remington from the Paines Creek Beach series. It works so well!

This is an exciting and polished novel which you can’t put down. 

Chef Maurice and a Spot of Truffle by J.A. Lang is a very entertaining cozy mystery featuring Chef Maurice, whose large and very French moustache deserves its own postcode, and his friend and restaurant critic, Arthur Wordington-Smythe. It makes for a very appetising start to a series.
The scene is a small Cotswolds town of Beakley, which is lucky enough to have Maurice’s restaurant, Le Cochon Rouge, in it. I say ‘lucky’ because all the food he prepares sounds wonderful! Maurice is clearly extremely dedicated to his craft. So when Ollie, his fresh mushroom supplier, winds up dead this is not something our headstrong French chef will stand for. He immediately starts to investigate in his own somewhat eccentric way and makes miserable the lives of many of the locals, and especially that of PC Lucy. It’s not long before it seems that valuable and unusual English truffle are involved somewhere and so Maurice acquires Hamilton, a little pig with a lot of personality, from the local animal rescue centre. Hamilton’s sharp sense of smell in tracking down truffles comes in handy, but also gets him and his owner into trouble.
This is a quirky mystery with a clever plot and a host of larger-than-life characters. There’s a lot of very witty writing and it’s the sort of book that constantly has you chuckling as you read. It’s delightful and absorbing, and I for one will definitely be following the rest of Chef Maurice’s adventures.

This is short , lively cozy mystery, despite the fact that our two protagonists are retirees. Connie and Sable, who are sisters-in-law, join forces as private investigators to keep themselves busy. Sable is dragged rather unwillingly into it to start with, but she soon begins to enjoy herself and provides the tough edge and technological savvy that Connie lacks.

Their first case is looking into the disappearance of child-minder Rachel. She’s the sort of person who would never leave her clients in the lurch so there’s definitely something fishy going on. Connie and Sable relish the challenge and prove to be rather good at what they do, which includes irritating the local police force. Fortunately  DI Saffron McCue was a good childhood friend of one of Connie’s daughters, so she can’t get too cross with the well-meaning amateur detectives.

Lots happens in the story to keep both the dynamic duo and the reader on their respective toes. There’s humour, grit, confidence, doubt, triumph and terror. The plot is clever and keeps us guessing. The author’s writing style is clear and enjoyable, and she creates beautifully rounded characters for us to encounter.

An excellent start to a series which I shall be following.

My only quibble – well, I’m an editor so there has to be at least one! – is the title. I can see where it’s coming from since a child’s play area is involved in the story, and it also reflects the fact that the two ladies may be seen to be ‘playing’ at what they’re doing. But to me it doesn’t quite make sense. However, it’s catchy and concise.

I received a free copy of this book and have written this review voluntarily.

This is a murder mystery that involves a busy but secluded religious commune, New Life, headed by Father Ambrose. A trash bag containing the mutilated remains of a young girl is thrown onto their property, thus forcing the community to be dragged into the real world it tries hard to avoid as the murder is investigated.

The book begins very well and this author’s forte is in narrative writing. However, it rapidly gets bogged down with a lot of tedious and repetitive dialogue. Too often characters are telling, and retelling, each other things where it would be far more efficient if the author just told us, the readers, once. There are too many phone calls – two long ones in one chapter alone. Phone calls are notoriously difficult to portray in any novel – should we hear one side only, both sides, how much small talk need there be, and so on – and it’s best to avoid them if possible. Luckily these days we can have brief texts or emails to do their job, because as in this book, they do jar and slow the pace.

The plot is interesting and the descriptive writing generally excellent, but elsewhere the quality is much lower. The book is written in the third person but the author also uses, rather inconsistently, first person techniques such as direct thoughts. These rapidly become intrusive since you start to wonder why particular paragraphs are presented as his thoughts whereas others aren’t. There’s too much inconsistency. The majority of the characters aren’t well developed and remain shadowy.

There’s much to admire but generally I found this book disappointing after such a good start.

 

This is an office-based cozy mystery, which, it has to be said, makes a welcome change from the plethora of bakery-based ones! It’s set in Bostoff Securities where Janet Maple, our heroine, has just been given a job by long-time but rather controlling friend Lisa. Having worked in the DA’s office, Janet has a nose for intrigue and cover-ups. So she quickly becomes alarmed when she notices that things, such as the complicated company structures,  don’t seem to add up and starts to do a bit of digging. Janet finds herself in the awkward situation of suspecting her friend and boss guilty of wrong-doing. She’s not the only one. Her apparently nerdy work colleague Dean (the alias for Dennis Walker, an undercover agent) is on the case too and the pair find themselves working together, as well as becoming increasingly attracted to each other.

The author has a very clear, concise, polished style that makes for enjoyable reading. The characters are nicely rounded  and I suspect the major ones will develop further as the series progresses. The plot is clever and it’s interesting to get an insight into how a securities firm works. All in all, a different and enjoyable cozy, although it has to be said that Baxter the dog could do with being let out a lot more often!

I received a free copy of this book from the author, but this is a voluntary review.

Help yourselves to a festive feel-good freebie from me!

Anna is house-sitting for family friends in a very cold cottage in the middle of snowy France. She’ll be there for a fortnight over Christmas. It’s all rather quiet and unexciting until, on Boxing Day, a pheasant gets tangled in the pear tree in the garden. Anna can’t possibly leave it there but her rescue attempt goes wrong, leaving her the stuck one. All she can do is wait for a knight in shining armour, or at least a passing Frenchman…

Anna Partridge in a Pear Tree is available in a variety of ebook formats for free from Smashwords here. And please spread the word!

This is a very polished cozy with lots of personality.

Our heroine Cassie, months away from becoming a fully qualified surgeon, is knocked down in a car park and the injuries she receives put paid to her career. She sinks into depression, so decides moving to London might be just the tonic she needs. In fact, she knows this must be the case when her mother, completely out of character, actively encourages her to spread her wings.

And so Cassie arrives in London. Despite having a generous compensation package to live off, she starts off in a hostel, into which she sneaks first a bike and later a cat! The bike is soon stolen and that sends Cassie to the police station where she bumps into DCI Tony Williams and his determined, straight-talking French colleague Violet Despuis, who quickly susses out Cassie’s medical past. And so when four people are poisoned at a soup stall, she tracks down Cassie to help her. Violet is someone you don’t dare say ‘non’ too (especially when Violet finds Cassie’s missing bike) and suddenly Cassie finds herself part of a crime-busting duo, and new owner one of the ginger cat of one of the murder victims.

Love interest arrives in the gorgeous form of ME Jake Edmonds, and this gives Cassie a boost, as does discovering that she’s not half bad at this detecting lark. True, she and Violet resort to breaking and entering, lying and deception to achieve results, but it works!

The author has given us a very interesting and unusual set of characters in this sparkling, clever cozy. It’s utterly absorbing and huge enjoyable. And it’s only the first in a series, so plenty more treats to come.

Oh, but I love this book about expat life in Provence! It’s beautifully written, thoroughly entertaining and sums up the expat experience superbly. The writing sparkles with enjoyment and humour, although the author’s not above giving gentle digs where they’re due. After all, the French do have their little, incomprehensible ways when it comes to, well, quite a lot of things!

Through a series of sips – vignettes of the author’s part-time expat lifestyle in France – we discover American Keith Van Sickle’s adopted corner of Europe and how he gets on in it. There’s never a dull moment. We share the thrills and frustrations as Keith and Val grapple with French living, attempt to communicate and, zut alors, try to actually get things done. And we mustn’t forget their dog too.

From the jolly, lively and excellent cover to the last page, this book keeps you riveted and provides plenty of chuckles. I do hope there’ll be some sequels as this is an author I want to keep on reading.

So that you can see what I mean, here’s a guest post from Keith

Guest Post

My wife Val and I have had plenty of mishaps living in France, like the time I tried to donate blood. After filling out a long and complex form, I had to have a private interview with a doctor. He didn’t speak English and I didn’t speak much French. After a few minutes of struggling to interview me, he slammed my file shut and announced that I would not be allowed to donate blood due to “insufficient command of the French language.”

And then there were the vocabulary mix-ups. Many words are the same in French and English, like nation and danger. If we don’t know a word in French, sometimes we just fake it by using the English word with a French accent.

It works most of the time but you have to be careful because some words exist in both languages and have entirely different meanings. These are the infamous faux amis, or “false friends.” Ask Val about the time she shocked people by talking about preservatives in food. Oops, preservative means “condom.”

We love France and spend part of every year there. It started when we wanted to live abroad but couldn’t find expat assignments. So we invented our own. We quit our jobs, became consultants and moved to France to follow our dream.

Oh, and we didn’t speak French.

The French have a reputation for being hard to get to know, especially for those who don’t speak their language, so we worried about how we would be received. And it was tough at first, trying to learn the language and meet people.

But despite our various misadventures, we slowly settled in. We mastered the local rules for greeting people (two kisses in certain towns and three in others.) We experienced the ridiculous security procedures surrounding the purchase of a simple $20 beard trimmer. We learned the language well enough that Val blushed when a famous chef called her “young and delicious like the fava beans of springtime.”

And we made friends! That really helped us feel comfortable in our new home. It can take a while, but once a French person welcomes you into their life, you are friends forever.

Now Val and I split our time between Provence and California. Thomas Jefferson is supposed to have said, “Every man has two countries – his own and France.” Maybe he was on to something.

I’ve written about our life in France in my book One Sip at a Time: Learning to Live in Provence, available from Amazon.

Keith Van Sickle

on Tour

November 6-17

with

One Sip at a Time

One Sip at a Time:
Learning to Live in Provence

(travel memoir)

Release date: January 28, 2017
at Dresher Publishing

ISBN: 978-0998312002
192 pages

Author’s page | Goodreads

 

SYNOPSIS

Can a two-career couple really pick up stakes and move to Provence?

Keith and Val had a dream – to live in Provence, the land of brilliant sunlight, charming hilltop villages and the deep blue waters of the Mediterranean. But there were two problems: they weren’t French speakers and they had full-time jobs. So they came up with a plan…

Follow their adventures (and misadventures) as they quit their jobs, become consultants and split their time between two countries. Laugh along as they build a life in Provence, slowly mastering a new language and making friends with the locals over long meals and just a bit too much wine.

If you’ve ever dreamed of changing gears and learning what joie de vivre is really all about, you won’t want to miss this delightful book.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

One Sip at a Time Keith Van Sickle

Keith Van Sickle
is a technology industry veteran
and lifelong traveler
who got his first taste of overseas life
while studying in England during college.
But it was the expat assignment to Switzerland
that made him really fall in love with Europe.
After returning to California, he and his wife Val dreamed of living abroad again
but were unable to find another expat gig.
So they decided to invent their own.
Now they split their time between Silicon Valley and St-Rémy-de-Provence,
delving ever deeper into what makes France so endlessly fascinating.

Find the author on Facebook and Twitter
Visit his website

Subscribe to his mailing list and get information about new releases.

Buy the book on Amazon.com

***

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***

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Daniel Beazley is a favourite author of mine. He’s so versatile, you never know what he will come up with next! He’s written science fiction fantasy very successfully (Goblins Know Best and Sepherene: The Complete Chronicles), and in this book, Ragg, he turns his hand to a period thriller.
The scene is mid-nineteenth-century London. Samuel Finch is a down-at-heel journalist with too great a liking for whiskey to ever be really successful. However, he stumbles across a truly sensational story within the walls of St Luke’s hospital for lunatics. One of the inmates, accused of several murders, has more secrets to share. These are passed on to Samuel by the enigmatic Tobias Ragg, an orderly at the hospital, who gradually becomes a friend. But as Samuel soon discovers, there is more to Tobias than meets the eye, and this will leave a lasting legacy.
The author portrays Victorian London in wonderful, atmospheric detail, and presents us with some superb characters. All are rounded and charismatic, and make for interesting company in this punchy, original novella. There is menace and intrigue, also touches of wit and humour, and you don’t see the ending coming at all. ‘Ragg’ is entertaining and well written, and thoroughly enjoyable.

Available as a Kindle ebook at all the Amazon stores for 90p (99 cents).

You know, this book really works! I was a little worried to start with that it wouldn’t, since it quickly emerges that there’s a magical paranormal element, and yet the book has such down-to-earth characters and a plot that has financial concerns at its core. Can such prosaic realism and such imaginative make-believe act in harmony? With this author, most definitely.

Frank, the heir to the Jamieson ice cream fortune, disappears together with his trust fund leaving his wife, Christy, and his daughter, Noelle, at the mercy of Frank’s trustees. Their marriage wasn’t successful but Christy is genuinely worried about her husband and knows this behaviour is out of character. However, everyone else seems to accept it all at face value. She is desperate to find him.

Christy and Noelle have to make big economies and so move to a smaller house, next door to the Armstrongs. Quinn Armstrong, a journalist, at first pursues Christy for a story since there are suspicions she’s involved in the money’s disappearance. To begin with she refuses to have anything to do with him, but soon she needs his help. In return for a scoop on Frank, he agrees to help her. More assistance comes from Stormy, Christy’s cat, who ends up on Quinn’s doorstep.

There is a lot for Christy and Quinn to deal with, not least the growing attraction between them. It all makes for a very enjoyable and innovative mystery.

My only quibble is with the title. There are an awful lot of books with the same title. I’ve mentioned this before in reviews, but it is vital for a book to be instantly findable. A distinctive, unique title is a must!