Hard Row – Margaret Maron


To paraphrase Bruce who said, in his written report delivered before the meeting, we “quite liked this book.  Good overview of the challenges of farming.”  This was also an interesting look at the migrant worker’s plight, what they have to put up with, and the dangers of coming to this country.  Would not have thought this was a problem in North Carolina.

We enjoyed the mystery and thought it was cleverly plotted.  And while the slow dropping of body parts was gruesome, it kept our attention.

The head-hopping might have been confusing, but the chapter heads kept things in line, even when there was a change of head mid-chapter.  The farming-related quotes with the chapter heads were annoying, though.

Our only real complaint had to do with the family tree we had to muddle through.  Way too many characters to keep track of.  But we did like the look at how the various family members were adjusting their thinking about how to manage the various parcels of family land.  Those portions of the book rang true, as did the legal aspects.

Bruce ended with this.  “All in all a very clever plot, well written with likable and believable characters, and all within a back ground of the dangers of pesticides and overt and hidden racism.”  Joan is hoping he’ll take over this blog…

Favorite characters – Deborah.  Joan was entranced with the fact she is a judge.  Refreshing to see something different.  We liked Dwight because he was nice, and laid back.  Cal the stepson was nicely portrayed and the growing relationship with Deborah was well-done and authentic.  Mike Diaz, who was industrious, an entrepeneur, honest, and just basically good people.

Least favorite – The victim, because he was just awful.  Buck.  Jack Jamison, who was declared to be wicked.  Mrs. Harris.  [SPOILER — A few of us thought she did it.]


P.S.  There are a number of copies of our next book, Murder of Mary Russell available at the library.  Just ask at the front desk.

~ Joan

Devonshire Scream – Laura Childs

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So. Many. Loose. Ends.

After an exciting start, which really caught our attentions with gems, jewels, murder, and mayhem, it was a long, slow, tea and scone-infused slide into cozy.  And annoying.

17 books.  Why are people still coming to Theo for help?  She’s just not that good at investigation.  She’s easily misdirected and distracted and is continually breaking the law.  The person behind the smash and grab isn’t even on her list of suspects.

During the smash and grab, some of us who hadn’t read prior books thought Haley was much younger, particularly because of the way Theo took care of her.  Like she was a child.  Who knew Haley was actually a genius chef who we all wanted to adopt?

The group found the story and mystery to blah and not very interesting.  The deaths were brushed off and the ending was downright horrible.

But Darla and George brought shortbread made from the book’s recipe, dyed green to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, and it’s a truth universally acknowledged that good food makes a bad ending palatable.  We DID enjoy the lightweight, entertaining nature of the book, with all its food and tea, though it was unlikely that three different teas would be presented in one week — Not good business practice and it must have been exhausting.  We also liked visiting historic Charleston, even if it was a one-sided, high-end look.  The over-the-top characters were amusing and entertaining.

But back to the loose ends

  • Why did the academic crash the jewelry thing in the first place?
  • Why did Theo and Drayton snoop around the house of the guy she shipped the ice axe to?
  • Where were the thugs hiding between gigs?
  • Who WERE the thugs and why wasn’t THEIR sudden presence in town noted?
  • What about the dog?!?
  • Why didn’t she ever snoop around the rich people’s houses?
  • Why didn’t Drayton and Theo walk the brooch to that guy’s office themselves and just send it off willy nilly with Haley?
  • What was the point of the Fire Garden, especially seeing as how they had initially talked of going to the yacht harbor?
  • Lots of women business owners, and yet, only a man could be behind the smash and grab.

Very much a love letter to Charleston, which makes Joan want to visit it.  Once.  She hopes she doesn’t run into Theo.

Favorite characters:  Drayton, Haley – We all wanted her to cook for us.  Theo, Luke and Sabrina (the yacht sales couple), Detective Tidwell.

Least favorite characters: Theodosia, Delaine, Grace, both FBI guys.


Dead Man’s Puzzle – Parnell Hall

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This had SUCH potential!  The concept of including crossword puzzles and a Sudoku puzzle as part of the way to solve the crime was inspired.  Until they became annoying and confusing.  As for revealing clues, we totally didn’t get it.  And we totally lost interest.  There was a lot of skimming by the group, some of us missed later murders, and some of us didn’t finish the book.

While we liked the mystery itself, with its ties to a really old crime, we found there to be too many red herrings, the legal process was completely disregarded in both the murder cases and the probate, and police and legal procedure as depicted was laughable.  And if Mobile, Alabama hasn’t cleaned its drains in 50 years, Joan is a monkey’s uncle.  A completely unbelievable bunch of nothing.

We didn’t like the main character, Cora, which is never a good sign.  She was declared to be an annoying busybody with delusions of hotness.  She was described as being a cross between Jessica Fletcher and Groucho Marx and some of us completely agreed.  She was not believable and not competent at anything she did, though she did seem to have a weirdly wired brain that allowed her to see the stranger byways of crime.

Favorite characters – Cora, who was declared to be spunky.  There were those who liked how she was brave and got to climb in windows, etc.  Cora’s dog, the poor thing.  The coroner, who at least retained some control over his world by locking the door and not answering the phone.  Chief Harper, who had is own bumbling way of going about things.  The niece’s new husband, who took a chance at happiness and married into the crazy family.

Least favorite characters — The author.  Dennis Pride.  Cora.  The heirs, real and otherwise.  Chief Harper, the pantywaist who allowed Cora to run roughshod over him, his department, the victims, the suspects, and pretty much anyone who lived in town.  The killer — an opportunistic despicable person wrapped up in his own self-interest with no scruples.

(And I rounded up!)

Bones Never Lie – Kathy Reichs

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Joan really loves Bones, the t.v. show, so she went into this book pretty excited to read about Temperance Brennan.  But this was no Bones.  There was a dearth of strong female characters, too much autopsy gore, relatively little interaction with Ryan, and not enough of the quirky humor that marks the t.v. show.

That being said, the group liked the book.  It was a compelling look at the investigative process and we found the multiple locales really interesting.  We need more mysteries set in Canada, Quebec in particular!

The story wasn’t always believable — do lab folk REALLY go into the field?  And if they did (or didn’t), would they constantly complain about not being kept in the loop?  Sadly, we felt the police department folk were portrayed as boobs, mostly because they weren’t lab folk.  We felt the police investigative work was realistically portrayed and the psychological stuff was good.  But it wasn’t always fun to read — the group has previously expressed its distaste for crimes against children.

Tempe’s internal world was interesting and we liked watching her thought processes as she went through evidence and tried to bring things into focus.  We did find the author’s need to end chapters with comment along the lines of “little did I know that it would go all to hell” annoying.  And usually, the warning was a lot worse than what actually happened.  A way to keep the reader reading, true, but annoying nonetheless.

Joan had the killer pegged by the middle of the book, though the twist [NO SPOILER HERE] threw her.

Favorite characters – Tempe, Tempe’s mom, Tempe’s cat, Tempe’s cat-sitter.  Joan found Stinky Slidel amusing.

Least favorite – Ryan.  What a pill.  At least make an effort to be pleasant.  Someone commented about his “slithering in and out.”  Slidel was annoying, though humorous.  Tawny McGee; the doctor in the E.R., Ajax, and Yoder, who was pivotal, but a compared to a slug.

We all agreed we’d probably read more by this author.

Fleece Navidad – Maggie Sefton

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We agreed that it was never a good sign when a book includes a Cast of Characters at the beginning.  And there were a LOT of characters to keep track of.  Joan admits that she probably should have READ the Cast of Characters so she wouldn’t have spent so many chapters spinning her wheels, trying to figure out who the main character was.

But once the story got going, we enjoyed the light, cozy, seasonal aspect of it.  It didn’t make us feel “icky” as some of our darker mysteries do. We compared it to a holiday Hallmark movie.  Poor Joan read it in August and wanted to drink hot chocolate.

The book was terribly sweet, with the perfectly perfect people, town, and holiday scene, but we agreed that small towns can be that way.  We did get tired of the weather observations and all that wool made us itch.

The mysteries were interesting, though.  Who killed Juliet?  Was Claudia really a black widow?  Claudia didn’t LOOK like a black widow and she was a little too dumb, too.  But Sheila was sure full of hate and for so many reasons.  She really needed to get a life.

Darla made the ginger cookies featured in the book and they were delicious!

Favorite characters — Annie (the lamb) (of course), Kelly, Hilda and Lizzie, Claudia, even though she was so manipulative.  She was at least entertaining to watch.  Burt, Curt, and Juliet.

Least Favorite – Sheila — What a witch.  Claudia.


Live and Let Growl – Laurien Berenson

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We always seem to love a good dog-related mystery.  And though our dog du jour is a poodle, that’s NOT what is pictured on the cover of the book, which is a little disconcerting.  It was also disconcerting that while Miss Ellie was portrayed as an aging Grand Dame of the dog world, she was, in fact, only 63 years old.

We found this to be an interesting mystery, though it took us forever to actually get to anything mysterious.  But getting to the mystery was fun and we liked “visiting” Kentucky, the dog show, and the horse facilities, which were all declared to be true representations.

There were some plot holes and inconsistencies, but the group pretty much didn’t care and just enjoyed the book.

Fluff.  Entertaining fluff, but fluff nonetheless.

Favorite Character – Terry, Aunt Peg, Faith the dog,

Least – Billy, for lack of anyone else.  Miss Ellie (because she was drunk and in a car accident).

Fuzzy Navel – J.A. Konrath

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[Joan trying to decipher Pam’s notes…]

The group really seemed to enjoy the fast pace and non-stop tension of this book.  Members liked the locale (Chicago area), the author’s style, and the many bizarre characters.

One person who didn’t enjoy the book was Joan.  Too much blood, too many seriously crazy people, and a whole lot of unbelievable action.  Jack gets shot in the head, gets her head STAPLED and then JUST KEEPS GOING.  She’s like the frickin’ Energizer Bunny.

Then we get to the end [SPOILER ALERT] and someone dies, BUT WE DON’T KNOW WHO!

Did anyone see a fuzzy navel?

Favorite characters – Mom, Harry, Herb, Jack

Least Favorite – Psycho Alex, the three guys with guns




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