Tina Debellegarde: Winter Witness Wednesday, Sep 9 2020 

Please welcome author Tina Debellegarde, with an unusual twist on the first in her Batavia-on-Hudson series, Winter Witness:

Why I Killed My Husband

Winter Witness is the first in my Batavia-on-Hudson Mystery Series.

In many ways this book is autobiographical: it tells the story of a woman making her way in her new home in a Catskill Mountain village and trying to fit in. A former teacher and historian, she moves to the quiet Hudson Valley community with her husband so she can finally write her first novel.

They create a hobby farm and make a quiet cozy life for themselves. She has a close relationship with her only son who lives in Japan (the future setting for Book 3 of the series.)

This is where the similarities end. Among other things, my life does not include meddling in the local sheriff’s homicides. But the most significant divergence from my life is that I chose to kill off my wonderful husband for the sake of the story. (This couldn’t be what they mean when they say kill off your darlings, could it?)

When I conjured this lovely scenario to set up Bianca St. Denis as my amateur sleuth, I realized that the tension would be ramped up, and she would be a much more interesting character if Bianca needed to manage farm life on her own in this new town.

A small farm, even a hobby farm, is hard work for two, and even harder alone. Bianca, as a young widow, has to look outward to her new community for help and companionship. She needs to find a niche for herself.

Being recently widowed makes her more vulnerable in countless ways and gives her much more room for growth and change across the length of what I envision as a long series.

It also frees her up for possible love interests, and who doesn’t like a few love interests in their reading?

Look for Winter Witness coming September 29, 2020.

Tina deBellegarde lives in Catskill, New York with her husband Denis and their cat Shelby. Winter Witness is the first book in the Batavia-on-Hudson Mystery Series. Tina also writes short stories and flash fiction. When she isn’t writing, she is helping Denis tend their beehives, harvest shiitake mushrooms, and cultivate their vegetable garden. She travels to Japan regularly to visit her son Alessandro. Tina did her graduate studies in history. She is a former exporter, paralegal, teacher, and library clerk.

Visit her website at http://www.tinadebellegarde.com

Jane Harper: The Dry, and Force of Nature Wednesday, Sep 2 2020 

Jane Harper’s debut The Dry, set in the outskirts of Melbourne, was such a hit that Auntie M had to see what all the fuss was about. After reading it, she immediately ordered the sequel, Force of Nature, and anxiously awaits a third.

The Dry introduces Federal Agent Aaron Falk, who left Kiewarra twenty years ago and hasn’t looked back. With his unusual looks, he’s always been a standout.

Then he find out his best friend from childhood, Luke, and his entire family have been found murdered. Hesitating, his visit home is clinched when he receives a note saying that the sending knows that Aaron and Luke lied about a childhood event, and tells him to come for the funeral.

The worst drought in decades has hit the rural area yet most of it is still recognizable to Aaron. Leaving with his father, now dead, had been a defining moment of his youth.

Returning will thrust him into the world of buried secrets, long-held grievances, and the question of who really killed Luke and his family.

Force of Nature bring Aaron back to a natural area, this time to a corporate retreat on a wilderness site. Five women have gone the trek, ostensibly to bond out of their office comfort zone in a weekend away that is to build trust——but only four return.

Aaron’s involvement rests on the missing hiker. Alice Russell is the whistleblower in his most recent case. She was supposed to be bringing him documentation that would topple her company and several people in it. And several of those people were in the woods with her.

As Aaron adds himself to the searchers and the investigation, the stories the four returning hikers give vary slightly, and just enough to raise his suspicions. Who betrayed the hiker?

Both books are tightly plotted, and illustrate a detail for characters that make them realistic and how that Harper is a great study of human nature. With their compelling story and the lead character perhaps the most intriguing of all, Harper’s books are both Highly Recommended.

Lucy Foley: The Hunting Party Monday, Aug 31 2020 


Lucy Foley’s The Hunting Party is one a friend recommended that was on the towering TBR pile for ages. The one thing Covid has done is allow Auntie M to time to read more than usual, and from the opening two pages, she knew this one would be a read she’d recommend, too.

A group of old friends gather every New Year’s for a reunion, taking turns on choosing and planning where they will gather. This time the choice has fallen to Emma, partner of one of the original group. She finds Loch Corrin in the Scottish Highland wildness, an exclusive retreat that only takes four groups a year.

There are several couples who were all at Oxford together, and include Kate, part of the group without a current partner; also the gamekeeper, Doug, and the woman who runs the retreat, Heather.

The one thing everyone has in common are the secrets they hold.

The book opens knowing one of these people is dead. Subsequent scenes from several points of view unfold the previous days leading up to the murder on early New Year’s Day. A snowstorm muddies the waters, as well as any help from outside, but doesn’t tamp down the high emotions running wild.

Foley carefully exposes each of the character’s using others’ points of view. The secrets being held are slowly revealed, as is the identity of the victim, an amazing feat in itself, especially as the reader knows someone has been killed but is not certain whom.

Yet as more and more of the days are described, the victim is ultimately the one person all of the suspects have a reason to loathe. With everyone in attendance a suspect, the tension keep rising and the pace gets tighter.

A fascinating study of characters that is an absorbing read, one Alex Michaelides, author of The Silent Patient, calls “Reminiscent of Agatha Christie at her best–with an extra dose of acid.”

Robert Pobi: Under Pressure Wednesday, Aug 26 2020 

Robert Pobi’s Under Pressure has the same strong opening as City of Windows, which introduced protagonist Lucas Page. A private event held at NY’s Guggenheim Museum ends catastrophically when an explosion literally vaporizes over 700 people attending or working that evening.

That Lucas is a vastly different hero is a major part of the story. His quick mind is only one of his many gifts. The talented astrophysicist can break down data at a glance, while his bionic parts help.

It’s no surprise when the FBI calls him in to help, despite his wife misgivings for his safety. Their unusual family is yet another aspect of this intriguing setup.

This blast was clearly planned with precision, and as Lucas delves into whether it was a terrorist attack, or whether someone attending that night was the target and all the hundreds of others collateral damage, he rubs up against difficult agents and experts all set out to prove Lucas wrong.

It’s an action-packed novel, with Lucas and his unusual talents surprising readers over and over. The political and sometimes even social comments embedded meld well with Lucas’s wry humor. Think a Lincoln Rhyme who’s able to get around more and you get an idea of the person leading the charge.

When a second bomb goes off, Lucas and his pattern sensing are twitched. Is there a misdirection or is his thinking wrong? Through the ensuing chaos, Lucas is somehow able to unravel this puzzle, and a deadly one it turns out to be.

Great thrills and one helluva read.

Lindsey Davis: The Grove of the Caesars Wednesday, Aug 19 2020 

In her 28th outing over two series––Marcus Didius Falco is the other–Lindsey Davis brings Falco’s adopted daughter, Flavia Albia, to another case in The Grove of the Caesars.

Following her father’s footsteps, Flavia’s investigations have their become known. Inadvertently, it’s Flavia’s husband, away on business, who puts her in the position to become involved in the hunt for a serial killer who has used the public gardens as his dumping ground.

Exploiting women goes against Flavia’s nature, and once a wealthy man’s wife is claimed as the latest victim, she puts aside her loathing of the man she must work with whose been assigned the case, Julius Karas.

Think a classic police procedural for a serial killer, set in first century Rome. And this a Rome Davis knows inside out, with the historical fiction she’s plumbed coming alive. Her extensive knowledge of the people, its mores and customs, and the city itself reveals Rome to be a vibrant city throbbing with a deadly, sinister undercurrent.

Davis interjects Roman’s casualness toward slaves, addresses immigration, and of course, women’s issues, all in a time where readers will be surprised to see these things considered.

Fans of historical fiction will revel in Ancient Rome brought to life and set amidst crime fiction.

Aline Templeton: Devil’s Garden Sunday, Aug 16 2020 

Aline Templeton brings her Serious Rural Crime Squad, headed by DI Kelso Strang, to a new case in a rural border town in Devil’s Garden.

Alerted by a former police college friend to suspected corruption at her local station, Strang manages to place DC Livvy Murray, whom he is mentoring, at the station to ferret out what’s going on.

The local celebrity is the ultra-reclusive Anna Harper, an international best-selling author known for avoiding the limelight or interviews. When her son dies of an overdose, and soon after her daughter, Cassie, who runs a foundation Harper has founded, has an accident, it becomes apparent to Strang that there is more going on here than accidents and Harper is at the heart of it all.

There are plenty of suspects, from several writers at the Foundation for a writers retreat and employees at the Foundation, to the majordomo housekeeper/best friend of Harper, Marta Morelli, who has been at the author’s side for years and keeps her secrets.

When the major snowstorm called the Beast from the East isolates everyone, Murray and Strang will face even more obstacles in keeping Harper and her daughter safe from a killer bent on revenge.

Strang is a strong lead character, a man who has lost his family, scarred emotionally and physically, and is trying to put his life back together. Murray could be his nemesis, but under his careful tutelage, is fast becoming a decent sidekick for him, albeit one who must learn to stop going off on her own.

A grand addition to a series that should be better-known in the US, Templeton is the author of the beloved DI Marjory Fleming series. With Strang going to rural places, Auntie M isn’t the only one hoping at one point these two detectives will have a case that overlaps and work together, even for one outing. Let’s hope Templeton is listening!

Elsa Hart: The Cabinets of Barnaby Mayne Wednesday, Aug 12 2020 

Elsa Hart’s historical Asian series set a standard for creating an atmosphere in a foreign setting, coupled with plotting that gives the reader suspense and shows the mores of the culture of the time.

She turns that same eye for historical detail from 18th century China to London in 1703 in The Cabinets of Barnaby Mayne.

It’s a time when men wear wigs, and science has beckoned to collectors of strange objects in what is perhaps an attempt to understand the wonders of the world. Magic and merman rest alongside the known science of the day.

Lady Cecily Kay’s passion for plants brings her to the household of Sir Barnaby Mayne, whose huge collection has been garnered from across the globe and covers objects, books, maps and artifacts he’s gathered.

It’s the envy of many, who wish to acquire similar collections. Collectors, Cecily soon learns, can have their needs become obsessions.

With Cecily’s husband at his post in Smyrna, she has been extended an invitation into the Mayne household to identify plant specimens she’s brought with her. What she doesn’t expect is for her host to be killed.

With a confessed killer awaiting death in gaol, Cecily will lead an investigation into what has really happened in a house where the collections inspire greed, at a time when women’s roles were highly circumscribed.

A period mystery with an intelligent protagonist, who must battle a fascination with the fantastical alongside scientific principles to unmask a killer.

Roz Watkins: Cut to the Bone Sunday, Aug 9 2020 

Roz Watkins delivers direct wallop with the newest entry in her Peak District series featuring DI Meg Dalton with Cut to the Bone, series that keeps getting stronger and stronger.

Violet Armstrong has created a name for herself in social media by taking on the meat vs vegan culture, and along with that, the eighteen-year-old is working in a pig abattoir.

Violet barbecues meat while wearing a bikini, actions intended to stir up feminists and animal rights activists, and indeed she has managed to do just that.

When she disappears, with her car found at work but no sign of Violet, speculation turns to suspicion that harm has come to the young woman and there are many suspects for Meg to focus on.

With her team in tow, and her complicated feelings for her DS in the back of her mind, Meg is surprised when her estranged father suddenly appears for a visit. Still reeling over the recent death of her grandmother, Meg’s closer to her mother, and to her best friend, Hannah. With her emotions all over the place on a personal level, Meg finds herself bonding with a young man with a dicey history.

Then evidence found points to Violet being fed to the pigs, and Meg realizes things are getting out of hand. Not convinced Violet is dead, Meg faces public ridicule when one of her suspects turns up dead. The feeling that there are other forces at work here is too strong for the detective to ignore.

At the same time, chapters set in 1999 illustrate events of the Armstrong family that have a direct bearing on what’s happening now, and how that family, local gentry, have been courted to for years.

There is a complicated but nicely twisted plot, with characters who will gain your empathy, and one of the most startling climaxes Auntie M has read. Very original, with a taut pace and a most atmospheric setting, this chiller intricately weaves modern society into a stunning read that makes this Highly Recommended.

Karen Dionne: The Wicked Sister Tuesday, Aug 4 2020 

Karen Dionne (The Marsh King’s Daughter) mines Michigan’s Upper Peninsula once again in her new thriller, The Wicked Sister. Her love and grasp of the dark woods and landscape coupled with the nature theme that runs through this bring the area alive and set the scene for a startling mystery.

Rachel Cunningham thought as a young girl she killed her parents. She’s lived in a psychiatric facility since then, until fifteen years after the grisly death of her parents.

When she finds out her memory had been tricked, and she was not responsible at all, she leaves the facility and moves to the UP and the family lodge that she’s inherited along with her sister, Diana.

Diana has lived at the lodge the entire time Rachel has been in her self-imposed exile, believing she deserved to stay away. Now she returns to the majestic area where her parents, research biologists in different fields of study, brought Diana as a young child. It’s the only home Rachel has ever known.

Flashbacks to the childhood of Diana tell the story of why the young family felt forced to flee their first home. Now that Rachel has returned, she must strike a balance and renew her relationship with her sister. So why does the home she loved feel as if it contains evil?

The psychology of families, and the lengths that will be taken to keep secrets, haunt this suspenseful tale.

Doug Johnstone: The Big Chill Sunday, Aug 2 2020 

Doug Johnstone introduced the women of the Skelf family in last year’s well-done A Dark Matter, prompting Twitter cries for #MoreSkelfs. He listened, and brings the trio back in The Big Chill.

Matriarch Dorothy, daughter Jenny, and university student grand-daughter Hannah, along with her partner, Indy, have kept the business running that has made the Skelfs a well-known Edinburgh name after the death of father Jim: a funeral home the older two women live over, and with it, a private investigation agency.

The events in A Dark Matter have led to the women healing physically but grieving emotionally in different ways. With Jenny’s ex-husband creating a startling wave of anxiety, the book opens with a car crashing into the open grave at one of the funerals the Skelfs are conducting.

Dorothy soon makes it her mission to discover the identity of the dead driver, and find out about his life. Jenny is caught up in a new romance, one she’s not certain she deserves, while dealing with her ex’s second wife. Could they have anything in common? And Hannah’s friendship with an elderly professor takes its own dark turn, causing her relationship with Indy to suffer in the process while she ponders life’s big questions.

It’s been said people grieve in their own way, and the women’s grief after Jim’s death was interfered with by the events in A Dark Matter. Now as they each explore the different ways to deal with their often overwhelming thoughts, more pressing needs at hand, such as a disappearing teen, often take precedence.

There are different kinds of mystery here, as each thread is followed, connections made, and unsettling events occur while life continues on in its way. There are surprises, too, that make the plot a twisted but realistic thing, one that readers will swear they can almost see happening to them.

This is a darkly funny tale, with so much knowledge of human nature running through it. Perhaps it is not that Johnstone understands humans better than some of us, but more that he is open to the many variations we offer as a response to situations, especially when we are emotionally vulnerable. In this, he has a clear eye. In these women, he’s created three strong, vastly different characters whose reactions reflect their individuality.

Auntie M loves this series and you will, too. #MoreSkelfs. Highly recommended.

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The Life of Guppy

the care and feeding of our little fish

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Reading is a wonderful adventure!

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"I tramp the perpetual journey." Walt Whitman

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