Lesson Plan for Murder: A Master Class Mystery
Summer has ended and Liz Hopewell is ready to get back to her classroom. Her first day back doesn’t go quite as planned when she finds fellow English teacher Marcia Deaver dead on the floor and her classroom trashed. She knows it was murder. After she finds a coded lesson plan, her curiosity gets the best of her, so she turns to her sister and cop Tom Harriman for help to pry into the secrets of Marcia’s life. Liz’s obsession with the mystery may cost her more than her marriage–it may cost her her life.
Liz’s problems with her husband hang in the background as she uses the investigation as a form of escapism. The plot is grounded with realistic characters, a surprising twist, and a satisfying conclusion. Solving the mystery is made more fun and upbeat mainly due to her sister, Susan, who treats it like it’s a game. The danger picks up when Liz receives threatening letters and someone else gets poisoned, but the fun never stops. The first in a new series by Lori Robbins, Lesson Plan for Murder is a cozy mystery that’s full of heart and humor, with a charming sleuth and fun literature references.
Barking Rain Press
In the Shadow of Lies
Oliver Wright a homicide detective returns home to Richmond, California, upon his fathers insistence to try and keep his brother Peter out of trouble. Peter Wright is an Assistant District Attorney and insists on investigating the case of two children whom have died in a fire in the woods near their home, sparked by the burning of a cross, most likely the work of the Ku Klux Klan though hard to prove, because no one is willing to speak up, and anyone who tries doesnt seem to live long enough to actually do so.
Life in Richmond during the 1940s is difficult for just about everyone. There isnt a soul in town who isnt experiencing loss, fear, or heartache of some kind. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, anyone of Japanese descent is labeled an enemy of the state, rounded up, and sent to internment camps. The Italians are still on the wrong side of the war, and, thus, they are deemed suspicious and deprived of their fishing boats, homes, and livelihoods. Although African-American men are allowed to enlist in the army, they are treated as second-class citizens, forced to cook and clean after the white recruits, even when they are willing to fight and die for their country. To make matters worse, a serial rapist is on the loose, striking fear among the colored women of Richmond, while shipyard workers are also being beaten to death, with little more than relative apathy as a response from the police force.
Oliver is caught in the midst of all this chaos trying to appease his father, attempting to keep his brother safe, and searching for the truth in a town overcome with fear, yet he is unable to put his mind at ease until he can solve these seemingly unrelated cases plaguing his hometown even after he reenlists in the Army and returns to solve a new crime.
M.A. Adler weaves this taunting mystery through a series of intriguing clues, tragic deaths, awful crimes, and troubled characters. And, although these unusual crimes draw the reader in, begging for a connection and resolution against a backdrop of darkness, hatred, and bigotry, there is a lightness and all-encompassing feeling of hopefulness and camaraderie among the downtrodden folks of Richmond. Whether it is Olivers determination to find the truth, Mrs. Forgiones welcoming nature at Café Avellino, or Roans love for his dog Emma and Peters children, every character is forged out of difficult experiences, unfathomable loss, intricate family relationships, and an ardent desire for a better future and the end of the war. In the Shadow of Lies proves to be a skillfully written mystery taking place during a very distressing period in American history, yet confirms that hope and kindness can triumph over intolerance in the darkest of times.
When we left Nicki McJacob in Regret Things, trouble had stormed through her front door at dinnertime, ruining her familys dinner plans. Now Sin and Nicki are back, and wherever they go, a few things follow. Guns. Money. Bad guys in good suits. In To Guns, we meet the McJacob family two years past that dinner debacle, safe but unhappy in a European paradise, missing the American dream they left behind.
As Nicki considers moving the family back to a small town nestled into the Colorado Rockies, risks of coming stateside be damned, little brother Sin is hooking up with the synergistically named Sindy. Suddenly, its looking like an idyllic time for a family reunion.
But Matt Ingwalson isnt that type of author, and this isnt that type of book. This is a guns-up book, a chase and showdown type of book. A world weary hit man is hot on Nickis heels. Then, gun-happy Sin steps into the wrong back-country domestic dispute. All this escalates into a classic Western gun battle that is at times hilarious, and at times high-throttle, but always memorable.
Sin and Nicki are a great combination of stealth and sass. Gun-loving, ever-brooding, smooth Sin is always an enigma, and Nicki stands as his flamboyant and unapologetic opposite. Ingwalson also brings to life Sins love interest Sindy, a self-proclaimed skater girl who manages to hold her own with the rough and tumble Kenfax and McJacob clans.
Ingwalson once again uses his trademark smooth, noir style to draw the reader into the novella while not distracting from the action at hand. To Guns is written in a novella style as it follows the action of this single chase to Colorado, so it is great for thriller fans looking for a quick read to pick up and breeze through.
My first thought upon finishing Missing Mona was that it is well-tailored novel for those enthusiasts of crime drama novels. Readers outside of this genre may find themselves bored with the density of the book at times, but the story is nothing, if not engrossing. The bones of the plot were set up well: Tommy Cuda is a protagonist with almost nothing to lose, who goes out to rediscover himself, and the adventure he gets is a result of accidentally stumbling into an opportunity that was the consequence of being in the right place at the wrong time. Its the classic story of the inexperienced average Joe who gets swept up in a mystery more grand than he ever could have imagined. When Tommy decides to leave behind what he knows and heads toward Chicago, he picks up an attractive hitchhiker on the way who goes by the name of Mona, and she hires him as a private investigator in order to find someone for her. But theres a twist. When he wakes the next morning in the motel room where they had stayed for the night, all he has is a photograph of Mona with a message on the back that reads: Find Me Tommy M”.
A seemingly simple mystery, Missing Mona rather quickly turns into a complicated plot with strong political and monetary motives. Particularly as the unanswered questions start tying in together to paint the bigger picture of Tommy Cudas mysterious hitchhiker. The story gets convoluted at times, and I found that the overall timeline was not the easiest to follow. I lost track of how many days Tommy Cuda was actually in Chicago, and I think it was in reality a much shorter time frame than it felt while reading. That being said, the action was well-paced, which made for some exciting moments. I was definitely invested enough to want to find out where Klingler was driving this novel. And aside from a few minute inconsistencies, all major questions were addressed making the novel feel concluded.
Klinglers Chicago made me want to visit the city in Tommy Cudas world. It was exciting and gritty, and set up to be the perfect type of place for our protagonist to find some adventure. I think the character was able to live the life that epitomizes the notion of finding oneself. Tommy Cuda had beautiful girls, great music, an old car on the open road, and an enticing unsolvable mystery. I dont think he could have sought out a more drastic change from the monotony of the life he had.
Wake Me Up
Four students from Chris Bullet’s Middleton, Montana, high school viciously beat him up because they earmark Chris to be gay. It is 2004, an election year. As “the Presidential cycle warps into full-blooded hatred of anyone gay, anyone different, and fills political campaign war chests,” Chris lies comatose at a children’s hospital. In an out-of-body experience, Chris views various people and their situations, such as the goings on in his school and also the fictional story loosely based on Chris’ demise written by Deepika, his father’s lover. While the affair is disconcerting to Chris, this is only the beginning of the drama that unfolds within his dysfunctional family, especially when his dad attempts suicide.
Justin Bog punctuates the sexual stigmatization that results from a bigoted societal mindset in Wake Me Up. Divided into four sections, Bog uses the Greek Chorus in parts one and four to present the collective voice of the many characters of whom Chris observes during his astral travel. Narrated by Chris, Bog’s first-person plot constantly alternates between Chris’ observances, character scenes, Chris’ childhood and school recollections, and the moments leading up to Chris’ attack. Key to many of Bog’s character scenes, which function like substories, is how he highlights sexual bondage. Good examples include the student who runs out of Chris’ mom’s English Literature class with no explanation after being harassed by other students, Deepika’s personal and familial lives, specific characters in her story based on Chris, and Chris’ dad’s past.
Bog’s attractive writing style, set to present tense, combines storytelling via the narrator and engaging dialogue. Although homosexuality is a top theme, Bog focuses much of his attention on relationship building: Chris’ dad’s issues with depression and suicide, his mom’s MS diagnosis, and Deepika’s decisions to move on with her life. As the story builds, so does Chris’ case, because all four boys are identified as his attackers. Wake Me Up is well written, thought-provoking, and a definite must-read by all!
The Nash Criterion
Obama’s term has come to an end, and Elaine York has stepped up to the plate as the newly inaugurated 45th President of the United States. She soon finds herself compromised, however, as a coup, seemingly initiated by a faction of the military, divides the nation, and America descends into civil war.
Events set in motion by a genius hacker named Fawkes, after he has unleashed a super-virus, have triggered the chaos. Once again, a team of FBI and CIA agents find themselves pitted against the forces of evil, including many within their own government. This story, book four of the Intel 1 series, follows on from The Anonymous Signal, in which an FBI cyber crimes unit went off-reservation with their crime-fighting methodology, and the chief and members of his team were forced to defend themselves and their actions in a military-style trial. However, this novel does function as a standalone, and can be successfully read as such.
Feds John Savas and Rebecca Cohen have to prove themselves worthy of their earlier exoneration, as they attempt to aid the ailing president. Meanwhile, a crack team, including super cybersecurity girl Angel Lightfoote, work on deciphering a secret code which obscures the unpublished work of brilliant mathematician John Nash. Once cracked, it promises to defeat a hidden enemy and restore peace and harmony to the nation. As if this weren’t enough, both groups must battle a divisive contingent of the military, pledging allegiance to this opposing set of puppet-masters, with sophisticated modern weaponry and advanced computational power at their disposal.
The author continues to develop his original creations, an interesting and quirky cast of non-stereotypical misfits, but, in places, paints quite a broad sweep when it comes to character perspective. Though successful in initial chapters when were inside Sava’s and York’s heads, the storytelling becomes less focalized as we switch between the two interwoven plotlines to spend time with the secondary group. It feels like if the reader were to be privy to the interior monologues of all of the characters and their motivations, a much stronger connection could be made, along with a sense of the cast having been more fully-developed. In this instance, I believe this series could be propelled into a league alongside tech thrillers written by masters such as Barry Eisler.
The author’s jargon and technical know-how is believable, as is the convincing fight choreography. All of this, along with the complex and intelligent plotting, makes for an extremely satisfying and page-turning read, and the incorporation of several hot politic topics and fascinating conspiracy theories about elite shadowy governments make it all the more compelling. Erec Stebbins is definitely one to watch, a good writer who just gets better and better.