The Necessary Murder of Nonie Blake

The Necessary Murder of Nonie BlakeThe Necessary Murder of Nonie Blake by Terry Shames
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Samuel Craddock is an older man, a widower, who is chief of police in a small Texas town. A young woman, Nonie Blake, is found floating in a pond behind her parent’s house, just a few weeks after her release from a twenty year stay in a mental hospital.

It doesn’t take long for Craddock to figure out Nonie didn’t die by accident, and he sets out, in a slow, methodical way, to discover who killed her, and why. His neighbor, Loretta, brings him fresh baked goods every morning and keeps him informed on all the rumors and gossip circulating through town about Nonie Blake’s strange family.

The deeper Craddock digs, the more lies he uncovers, until it seems any one of her five family members could have murdered Nonie. Maybe they all know the truth and have closed ranks to protect one of their own.

Midway in the investigation, the state sends Craddock a young, hispanic, female deputy, courtesy of an affirmative action grant Sam Craddock never requested or expected. She stirs things up and helps him solve the case.

This is a “cozy” mystery, there is very little violence, no sex or crude language. My interest was held in trying to decipher the puzzle, as Craddock uncovered clues and interviewed suspects.

When I picked this book up I didn’t know it was the 5th book in the “Samuel Craddock” series. That didn’t keep me from enjoying the story, and I’m thinking now I’ll have to pick up the first one, A killing at Cotton Hill.

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The Husband’s Secret

The Husband's SecretThe Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Husband’s Secret. With a title like that, you’re trying to guess the secret from the very first page. Is he having an affair? Is he gay? Transgender? Does he have a secret family in another town? Is he a government agent? A “sleeper” spy? Head of a major crime ring? What?

I went through all these usual suspects (and more) and discarded them one by one. Then something else would happen and I’d start wondering about one of them again. It kept me turning pages, but I would have done that anyway because the writing is so lovely. In Liane Moriarity books all her characters are so real. There are no cardboard cut-out people, everyone in the family and the neighborhood has a life full of complications and secrets of their own.

No spoilers from me, just a promise. Read this book. You won’t be sorry.

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What Was Mine

What Was MineWhat Was Mine by Helen Klein Ross
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What Was Mine is not like any kidnapping story you have read before. Instead of seeing just one side of the story, the chapters are told from different perspectives as different characters tell parts of the story in their own words.

It begins with Lucy, a successful business woman who tried to have a baby for years. Her determined, compulsive, effort to get pregnant drives a wedge between Lucy and her husband until he finally leaves her. On her own, she begins a quest to adopt, but as a single woman she is always rejected. Then one day she sees a beautiful baby girl, left all alone in a shopping cart in an empty aisle of a large store. Without thinking, Lucy picks the child up and walks out. She justifies her act by telling herself the baby’s mother doesn’t love her or she wouldn’t have left her alone in the shopping cart.

But Marilyn, the little girl’s mother, does love her. She got a call from her office and paced while working out the problem on the phone. She’s surprised when she hangs up and realizes she’s walked away from the cart, and completely devastated when she can’t find her baby. In an echo of Lucy’s story, Marilyn’s frantic, compulsive search for her baby destroys her marriage.

The lives of these two women are changed forever by that moment in the aisle of the store, but not as much as the life of Natalie/Mia, the stolen baby. Her chapters begin when she learns the life-shattering truth during her last year of college. For 21 years she was Lucy’s daughter, Mia, an only child. Learning how to be Marilyn’s daughter and half sister to three siblings is a challenge.

Other chapters are told by Ali, Mia’s Chinese nanny, by Lucy’s sister, by Marilyn’s son, by Ali’s son, and by others. Each new character adds another layer to this complex and many faceted story.

What was Mine would be a great choice for a book discussion group. There are so many questions raised. How far would you go to be a mother? What would you do if your child was stolen? If a kidnapper turns out to be a good mother, should she be punished less? What would you do if you discovered your sister had kidnapped a child and lied about it to you for years? Could you forgive her? When a child is raised by a full time nanny, who is the real mother?

If you discovered your whole life was a lie, could you learn to forgive and move on?

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Mrs. John Doe

Mrs. John DoeMrs. John Doe by Tom Savage
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Mrs. John Doe is a fast paced thriller/mystery about an American actress who gets a phone call that her husband has been killed in an car crash. She travels to England, identifies his body, and picks up the items that were in his pockets at the time of the accident. Before the day is out she is drawn into a complicated web of intrigue involving spies, midnight churchyards, and high speed chases across Europe. She doesn’t know who to trust and is forced to rely on her own resources to stay alive. There are a few twists you may not see coming.

No sex and very little “on-stage” violence, just a good mystery puzzle to keep you guessing.

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The Girl at the End of the World by Richard Levesque

On Scarlett’s 15th birthday a deadly plague begins. Within a few days her whole family and all of her friends are dead. At first, she expects to die with them, but she has immunity and is left alone to fend for herself. When her neighborhood catches fire, she strikes out through the city, hoping to find other survivors like herself to befriend. But not everyone who survived the plague is the kind you would want for a friend.

Scarlett never considers suicide, although she finds others who took that route to escape and understands how desperate they must have been. Scarlett turns her full attention to survival, and that’s what makes the novel so absorbing.

The Girl At The End of the World is a story of survival, a story of one strong and determined young girl who refuses to beaten down by anything or anyone. At the ending, I looked eagerly for a link to a sequel. Couldn’t find one, but I’ll keep watching Richard Levesque.

Make Me: a Jack Reacher Novel

Make Me (Jack Reacher #20)Make Me by Lee Child

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Stephen King says Jack Reacher is “the coolest continuing series character now on offer,” and who am I to argue with Stephen King?

Although it is true that after you’ve read a few of Lee Child’s Jack Reacher novels, you pretty much know how the story is going to start (Reacher arrives and meets a woman who needs help) and how it’s going to end (bad guys are mostly dead, Jack moves on.) It’s what happens in the middle that keeps readers coming back and keeps Lee Child on the bestseller lists.

This one is very, very dark. I hated the portrait, so expertly painted, of a small rural town where absolutely everybody is evil, or at the very least, corrupt. I refuse to believe any town, anywhere, would stand by and allow the god-awful business of Mother’s Rest to continue.

But we don’t read Lee Child looking for a realistic story, do we? Jack Reacher is a fantasy hero, the guy we all want on our side. Make Me is perfect Jack Reacher, a tidbit of romance, tightly woven suspense, and a bucketful of action.

I do wonder if perhaps Lee Child has been hanging out with Stephen King a little too much.

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A Curious Beginning: a new Victorian mystery series

A Curious Beginning (Veronica Speedwell Mystery, #1)A Curious Beginning by Deanna Raybourn

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Celebrate! A Curious Beginning is the FIRST Veronica Speedwell mystery! That means we have more to look forward to. Miss Speedwell is a most improper Victorian spinster. She travels throughout the world making her own living collecting and selling rare butterfly specimens to less adventurous collectors. She never takes a lover while in England, but doesn’t hesitate when abroad.

She’s intelligent, physically fit, and much too outspoken for a proper English drawing room. When her last known relative, a maiden aunt, passes away, she believes herself to be all alone in the world, unencumbered by family obligations. She likes it that way. But before she can enjoy her freedom, her cottage is searched and trashed, and a stranger arrives to warn that her life is in danger and whisk her away to the safety. It seems Veronica Speedwell may have family after all, family who might be happy to see her dead.

This adventure is indeed a “curious beginning” since readers are caught up in a suspenseful mystery one minute, and laughing out loud the next.

Can’t wait to read Veronica Speedwell #2.

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Crooked Little Lies

Crooked Little LiesCrooked Little Lies by Barbara Taylor Sissel

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It’s hard to put this story into a neat little slot and call it romance, or mystery, or suspense, or women’s fiction. It’s all of those things and even more. Lauren is a woman who has had a terrible accident that left her brain and body damaged and in great pain. She became hooked on the pain killers prescribed for her afterward.

As the novel opens she has kicked her addiction and is trying to regain her own confidence and the trust of her family. The appeal of the story to me was Lauren’s struggles, her own doubts about her competence and even her sanity, and then watching her pull herself out of it when she joins the search for a mentally damaged young man who has gone missing.

There are times when you wonder if Lauren herself had something to do with Bo’s disappearance. She keeps being told that she does things she can’t remember doing. Crooked Little Lies is suspenseful and has a satisfying ending.

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Family Reunions

William Riley and Mattie Roger wedding photoThis week, I’m working on plans for the Kemp Rogers family reunion.

On June 12, 1901, at the home of the bride’s parents in Mokane, Missouri, Miss Martha B. Horner married William Riley Rogers.

Mattie and Riley Rogers settled in a little log cabin home west of Mokane and raised a family of ten children, three sons and seven daughters. Just down the road, Thomas Henry Kemp and Dora Burch Kemp farmed with the help of four sons and two daughters.

The Kemp family and the Rogers family were good neighbors and good friends. Otis, the oldest Kemp son, married Nora, the oldest Rogers daughter, on March 26, 1920. Five years later Floyd Kemp married Nellie Rogers.

When Alfred Kemp came to ask for the hand of red-headed Bessie Rogers, her father asked “Don’t you think you boys are carrying this a little too far?” Alfred answered. “No, Sir. Not at all.”

The two families were merged forever, sharing twenty-four grandchildren. All of those grandchildren are past 60 now, and have children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of their own. That’s why our family reunion always has two names Kemp AND Rogers.

Of course, not every family marriage was between Kemp and Rogers.

One Kemp son, Marvin,  broke the pattern by marrying Birdie Branch, a daughter from another neighbor. Mabel Rogers “branched off” by marrying Birdie’s cousin, Earl Branch.

Mattie Kemp married Monroe Whyte, and her sister, Nannie, married Tommy Cave. Emma Rogers married Jesse Perry. Mildred Rogers married Ray Kirk. Harry Rogers married Marie Scott. My mother, Myrtle Rogers, married James Paul.

When we all get together on July 12, the Kemp Rogers Reunion will include cousins who have dozens, maybe hundreds, of different last names. But we all trace back to Tom and Dora, or Mattie and Riley.

Rogers family about 1955

Rogers family 1955 – Fred, Myrtle, Mabel, Bessie, Mildred, Emma, Nora, Nellie, Harry – Seated in front, Mattie Bell Horner Rogers and William Riley Rogers