Spring into a Crime Fiction Series

Hideout
by Louisa Luna

Zeb Williams, a one-time college football player went into hiding after he sabotaged his own team’s chance at a huge win. Thirty years later, California-based private investigator Alice Vega, a missing persons specialist, is hired to find him. On the outs with her partner, ex-cop Max “Cap” Caplan, Vega heads alone to the small town of Ilona, Oregon – the last place Zeb had been seen. There, she ends up uncovering a white supremacist gang who are terrorizing their neighbors. Vega won’t let that stand and interjects herself, getting badly beaten in the process. She heals, but then learns that Cap’s daughter is being harassed on the other side of the country. Readers will almost feel sorry for the revenge Vega has planned for this group, whose members include the son of a town bigwig. Is Vega over her head? And how does this connect to the disappearance of the infamous Zeb Williams?

Hideout is an adrenaline filled entry in the Alice Vega series by Louisa Luna, and fans of the first two books will appreciate the character and relationship development and surprises in this installment. Alice Vega is a tough as nails, fearless yet complex P.I., a champion for the helpless and downtrodden who is not afraid of hurting those who hurt others. Readers of Lee Child, action-packed gritty crime fiction, and strong female leads should pick up Hideout or, better yet, the series’ starter Two Girls Down.

-Carol

My Life Is Murder

I love a good mystery program. I like it even better when I can borrow and download one *for free* from one of Rocky River Public Library’s digital streaming services.

On Hoopla, I’ve been enjoying the first two seasons of My Life is Murder, starring Lucy Lawless, best known for her role in Xena: Warrior Princess. In My Life is Murder, Lawless doesn’t fight mythical beasts, but she does kick butt as Alexa Crowe, a former homicide detective turned police consultant.

In the first season, set in Australia, viewers meet Alexa, a widow who has left the world of police work behind her and has turned to baking bread for a living. She reluctantly agrees to look over one baffling murder file at the request of one-time colleague Detective Kieran Hussey and she finds that she just can’t resist helping him out. Alexa’s good instincts and her skill at crime solving quickly make her Kieran’s go-to investigator, in cases ranging from a dead culinary student who slipped in oil, to the death of a teacher that puts Alexa back on the grounds of her former high school.

In season two, Alexa has moved back in her home country of New Zealand—and hopefully, she thinks, to a quieter life away from murder and mayhem. Unfortunately, tales of her legendary investigative skills (and her tech-savvy sidekick Madison) follow her to Auckland, where Alexa finds herself back in the business of busting murderers. Her investigations are just as exciting in round two, with the added bonus of some famous guest stars, including William Shatner.

My Life is Murder is a lighthearted show that is filled with plenty of humor to balance its high, but mostly bloodless, body count and there is a fresh crime for Alexa and her friends to solve each episode. Fans of Columbo and Agatha Raisin or those looking for a fun, breezy, and well-acted mystery series, won’t want to miss this one, which has just been renewed for a third season.

-Carol

A Book That Rocks

The Unsinkable Greta James
by Jennifer E. Smith

36-year-old Greta James is a successful indie rock star whose world is turned upside-down when her mother unexpectedly dies. Grief causes Greta to meltdown on stage in a disastrous performance that goes viral and prompts Greta to impulsively to break up with her current boyfriend. All Greta wants to do is hide from the world but unfortunately, her brother has talked her into going on an Alaskan cruise with their father Conrad.

Greta gets on the ship, knowing the trip will be a disaster and worried that her career might be over. The cruise, meant to be a celebration for her parent’s 40th year anniversary, will be the first time Greta and Conrad are together without her mother there as a buffer. Greta isn’t sure she can have a meaningful conversation with her dad who has always disapproved of her career choice, but now that they are trapped together for a week on the ocean, she might just have to try.

This novel about grief, family, and growing up is moving story with sympathetic characters, a bit of romance, and atmospheric depictions of Alaska. You won’t regret getting on board with The Unsinkable Greta James by Jennifer E. Smith. Just be sure to pack a tissue or two.

-Carol

Heat Things Up with a Romance

The Roughest Draft
by Emily Wibberley & Austin Siegemund-Broka

When Katrina “Kat” Freeling and Nathan Van Huysen met six years ago at a writers’ workshop in upstate New York, their writing styles and personalities just clicked, and the two quickly became the closest of friends and the co-authors of a well-received first novel. By the time their second book goes to print and is on its way to become a hugely successful best-seller, however, something has fractured their partnership and the two aren’t even on speaking terms.

Four years later, Kat and Nathan are still under contract to co-write a final book for their publisher who won’t take no for an answer. Kat very reluctantly agrees to write with Nathan once more, but only to please her agent/fiancé Sam. Nathan agrees, because he secretly thinks he can’t write without Kat.

The two reunite in the same house in the same Florida town they wrote their last book, the one that propelled them to fame, broke up their friendship and quite possibly destroyed Nathan’s marriage. Sequestered on Key Largo, long-buried sparks fly and closing the cover on their book and their relationship may not be as easy as it sounds.

Will they or won’t they? Did they or didn’t they? Told in the present time and through flashbacks, The Roughest Draft by co-authors and real-life couple Emily Wibberley and Austin Siegemund-Broka is a steamy, slow-burn of a romance that will definitely heat up your reading list.

-Carol

An Award-Winning Good Read

The Last Cuentista by Donna Barba Higuera is a middle grade novel that blends Mexican folklore and science fiction. I just had to read it after learning it won the 2022 Newbery Award, one of the most prestigious prizes in children’s literature.

When Earth is destroyed by a comet, 12-year-old Petra Peña’s family is among those chosen to travel through space and time to help populate a new planet. Something goes wrong while they are in their sleep-states and when Petra wakes up hundreds of years later, she seems to be the only person who remembers Earth. Even more disturbing, the management of the ship and its mission have been taken over by an evil “Collective,” who have purged the memories of those on board, eliminating those unwilling to be brainwashed. Petra, whose close relationship with her abuela (grandmother), Lita, prepared her to be the future world’s cuentista (storyteller), must look deep within herself and her memories in an attempt to save civilization.

I absolutely loved this unusual book that reminded me of The Giver by Lois Lowry. I also loved the way the author weaves Mexican folklore and language throughout the novel, as Petra shares her favorite cuentos (stories) with her newly awakened shipmates. If you like books about the importance of stories, folklore and family, take a magical and memorable journey along with The Last Cuentista.

-Carol

Enjoy a Mystery, BCE

Disappearance of a Scribe is the latest mystery by Dana Stabenow. This second of a planned trilogy is set in Ancient Egypt, 47 BCE in the capital of Alexandria, where Cleopatra is Queen. Her dearest, lifelong friend Tetisheri is her new “Eye of Isis,” a title with the royal authority to investigate mysterious matters that are linked to the Queen. After solving the murder of her predecessor in the series starter, Death of an Eye, Tetisheri isn’t sure she is cut out for the role, but finds herself called to the scene after the bodies of two young men are found drowned in the Mediterranean Sea with their feet set in concrete.

Tetisheri enlists the help of Vitruvius, a famous architect, who identifies a rare additive in the concrete reserved solely for special projects for Cleopatra. As Tetisheri tracks down the people responsible for the murders, her investigations take her to many atmospheric and vibrant locations in Alexandria and put her own life in danger along the way. This historical mystery kept me turning pages with its strong female lead, plenty of political intrigue, atmospheric depictions of Egypt’s bustling capital, some steamy romance between Tetisheri and her handsome bodyguard Apollodorus and of course, its front seat journey through time to the Hellenistic Age. Maybe some crime-solving in Egypt is in your future, too. Pick up Disappearance of a Scribe, or better yet, start with Death of an Eye.

-Carol

Warm Up With a Book You Love

Happy Valentine’s Day! Why not use today as a good excuse to show some love to one of your favorite books and give it another read? Personally, I love to revisit A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle. First published in 1962, this young adult fantasy novel won the Newbery Medal, the Sequoyah Book Award, and the Lewis Carroll Shelf Award.

Thirteen-year-old Meg Murry is unhappy. Although really smart, she struggles in school, she faces bullies on a daily basis and more than anything, wishes her missing physicist father would come home. Life for Meg is forever changed when she meets her eccentric new neighbors, Mrs. Whatsit and Mrs. Who, and their third companion, the disembodied voice of Mrs. Which. These three strangers are actually supernatural beings who transport Meg, along with her small brother, Charles Wallace, and their friend Calvin O’Keefe on a journey through time and space in search of Mr. Murry, who disappeared while working on a government project.

When I first read A Wrinkle in Time as a middle-schooler, I loved the book for its girl-power messages and for how it introduced me to the idea of time travel and got me interested in science. Today, when I reread this adventure-filled, coming of age story about the fight between Good and Evil, it is like being wrapped in a cozy blanket of nostalgia. Go ahead and rediscover your own favorite book today.

-Carol

Warm Up With a Vintage Number

Looking for a book that wants to make you sing and dance? Pick up this oldie from “way back” in 2017.

The Music Shop by Rachel Joyce begins in 1988 at a record store in a small English village, on Unity Street, dead-end strip of struggling shops, whose buildings have been in disrepair for decades.

Frank, forty and single, is the owner of the music shop, which sells only vinyl records (no CDs!). Frank knows absolutely everything about music and always manages to find the right album for the right person at the right time. Someone might come into his shop wanting Duran Duran and walk out with Mozart instead if Frank has a sense that a certain song or type of music will cure them of their blues.

If only Frank could make that kind of magic for himself. Unfortunately, Frank isn’t great at personal relationships as a result of an unorthodox upbringing. He is a poor communicator and finds it hard to stand his ground, even when a real estate developer starts to pressure Frank and his fellow shop owners to sell.

Everything changes on the day that Ilse Brauchmann, an attractive young woman wearing a pea-green coat, peers into Frank’s store window and immediately faints outside of his shop. Will Ilse, who mysteriously always wears gloves, be able to chip away at Frank’s tough exterior and help him come to terms with his past?

As with all of Rachel Joyce novels, this book will make you cry a little and laugh a lot. Pick up The Music Shop if you are looking for a satisfying, feel-good read with a sweet romance and a charming cast of supporting characters. Like that perfect song, it might just heal your soul.

-Carol

Warm Up with a Riveting Read

I’ve loved reading Lisa Lutz since 2008’s The Spellman Files and its sequels, books about a family of private detectives that were filled with interesting and quirky characters and had me rolling with laughter and eagerly awaiting each installment. Her brand-new book, The Accomplice, a twisty mystery/thriller standalone novel, had me hooked as well.

Luna and Owen have been the best of friends since college and while it might appear otherwise, their relationship has always been strictly platonic. For years, they have been each other’s “ride or die” friend, the one who will keep your secrets no matter what, lie for you when you need them to, and generally have your back whatever the situation.

In 2019, long past college days, Luna and Owen are neighbors married to other people. Still inseparable, they both find themselves questioned when Owen’s wife is murdered. Unfortunately, it’s not the first time either of them have been in this situation. While students at Markham University, a girlfriend of Owen’s mysteriously died. Though they both claim innocence in both crimes, there are secrets they each are desperately trying to keep hidden, including why Luna changed her name many years ago. How far will these two friends go to protect one another’s secrets and how well do they really know one another after all?

Suspense, secrets galore, witty banter, well-drawn (flawed) characters, and a surprise ending? This book really does have it all! Fans of Liane Moriarty who haven’t discovered Lisa Lutz and fans of contemporary character-driven mysteries will not be disappointed with The Accomplice.

-Carol

A Winter of Agatha Christie

I am admittedly late to the game where Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple mysteries are concerned. But thanks to our library’s digital service Hoopla, this winter I started streaming “Agatha Christie’s Marple” and don’t know what I was waiting for. This British show is loosely based on the famous mystery writer’s novels and short stories, and ran for six series from 2004 to 2013. The role of Miss Marple is played by Geraldine McEwan from the first to the third series, followed by Julia McKenzie for its remainder. Both actors spectacularly portray Miss Jane Marple as a sweet older woman who could be anyone’s neighbor, who has a seemingly endless supply of nieces and nephews to assist her in collecting clues, and whose clever and feisty personality aid her in outwitting local police and catching the murderers herself. It checks all of my boxes for a great TV series –a smart crime to solve, a little bit of romance, and British period drama (1950s in this case). It is also fun to spot noteworthy guest-starring actors, including Julian Sands and Benedict Cumberbatch.

Because the show takes liberties with Miss Christie’s original novels, I thought I should experience a Marple novel as the author intended and I downloaded the e-book (from Libby, thanks again RRPL) Murder at the Vicarage to read. In this series first, a murder occurs in the sleepy village of St. Mary Mead, a hamlet where everyone knows each other’s business and the vicar, Leonard Clement, is everyone’s confidante. When Clement finds Colonel Lucius Protheroe murdered in his study, it is lucky for him that his neighbor is the witty Jane Marple. Miss Marple immediately has seven suspects, and while the police do not appreciate the nosy spinster getting their way, readers know that Miss Marple will solve the case and keep her village safe. How utterly delightful and reassuring!

It’s cold and snowy. Perhaps you too will want to get cozy with Agatha Christie and her charming Miss Marple this winter.

-Carol