There are so many fabulous books out there, and we’d like to take this Monday to catch up on some reviews for authors who have appeared as guests on our site. We hope you find these reviews helpful. Enjoy!
by Pamela Samuels-Young
Goldman House Publishing, 2009, $14.95
Review by Jacqueline Vick
Pamela Samuels-Young has written another grip-your-seat-and-hang-on-for-the-ride book. Her chapters, filled with tension and twists, are short and brisk and leave the reader anxious to know what happens next.
In her first standalone novel, “Buying Time”, Samuels-Young introduces a new set of characters. Angela Evans is the bright but socially insecure Assistant U.S. Attorney heading a task force to investigate fraud of the most nefarious kind. The insurance policies of terminally people are being bought up by a company dealing in viatical settlements–they offer desperate people much needed money for their final days. Angela believes the company is pressuring sick people to sign away their policies for peanuts.
Enter Waverly Sloan, a recently disbarred attorney. He needs money to hang onto his materialistic wife, and viatical brokering for Live Now is a lucrative business. At least until his clients start dying ahead of schedule. Suspected of murder, Waverly’s troubles have only begun.
As usual, Samuels-Young’s characters have depth. While there are definite bad guys, many of the characters who are involved in shady activities are layered people, even likeable when they’re not selling crack or embezzling funds. And even when her characters make choices that cause you to scream “Don’t do it!”, their actions are the result of reasoning rather than fortuitous acts to make the plot work.
Samuels-Young is a master at raising the stakes, and just when you think the worst has happened, new complications set in.
Warning. The book begins in a very dark place. The reader is not only dealing with murder, but the hopelessness of terminally ill patients, and that can make for a depressing read. This discomfort is a tribute to Samuels-Young’s skills at creating a believable world, and once the action picks up, you’ll be so focused on the fate of the living characters, you won’t have time to feel sorry for the initial victims.
By Sheila Lowe
Penguin Books, 2009, Paperback $6.99
Review by Jackie Houchin
Sheila Lowe’s latest Forensic Handwriting Mystery delves into the emotionally volatile world of matchmaking and makes anything you’ve watched on reality TV seem frivolous by comparison.
After a guest appearance on a local faux-news show brings her media attention, Claudia Rose receives a job offer from Baroness Olinetsky in New York.
The Baroness, who runs a world-class matchmaking service for the rich and powerful, needs a new handwriting expert. Her previous graphologist “made bad mistakes” and there were “consequences.”
Since a lot of Claudia’s work is for employers looking for good hiring matches Claudia sees how graphology could be helpful in the love-connection business. Still, something in the Baroness’ story makes Claudia hesitate.
Learning that the previous expert was her arch-rival doesn’t help. But a job is a job, and Claudia, who needs some “space” in her relationship with LAPD detective Joel Jovanic, accepts the offer.
In New York, when Claudia analyzes handwriting samples in the baroness’ client files, she finds many markers for violence that her predecessor ignored. Concerned about possible problems, she brings it to her employer’s attention.
Reluctantly the Baroness admits that there’s been a rash of “accidental” deaths among her clients.
Considering her findings, Claudia views the deaths as highly suspicious. But alerting the police is out of the question according to the Baroness, who claims the publicity would destroy her business.
Although Miss Rose says repeatedly that she is a graphologist and not a detective, her impressive investigative skills kick in as she works to uncover the person responsible for what she believes are four murders. But the killer has a lot to lose if caught and is determined to eliminate Claudia first.
Lowe’s list of credible suspects and well-place red herrings keeps us guessing about the villain’s identity till the end, and then, with only a few pages remaining, she delivers one more shocking “Kapow!”
Lowe’s expertise as a handwriting expert gives her books authenticity. From tics, t-bars and twisted loops, to dot grinding and word crowding, readers get a fascinating insider look at the tools and techniques used in graphology. It might even prompt them to look for homicidal tendencies in their own handwriting.
Note: Loyal readers to the series will see one of Claudia’s dark fantasies realized in this book. Hooray!
WRITTEN IN BLOOD
by Sheila Lowe
New York, Obsidian/Penguin, 2008, Paperback $6.99
Review by Jackie Houchin
Forensic handwriting expert Claudia Rose is back in her second mystery, WRITTEN IN BLOOD, and she sharper, tougher and more tenacious than ever. In this installment, Claudia is hired to authenticate the signature on a contested will.
Her client is Paige Sorensen, the widow of a wealthy older man who died following a series of debilitating strokes. His children, a pair of psycho-twins, believe their young and beautiful stepmother forged his signature on the will so she could inherit the estate, which includes the prestigious Sorenson Academy. Paige is headmistress of the school for “emotionally challenged” celebrity children, and wants it to continue. The twins have other plans for the property.
Claudia meticulously follows the prescribed steps to verify the signature on the will, giving readers a fascinating insider’s glimpse of what’s involved in the process. But in the tense courtroom scene that follows, her findings are challenged by the prosecution’s so called “expert.”
Impressed by Claudia’s expertise, Paige invites her to the Academy to speak to the girls about her profession. In class, she meets and is curiously drawn to a deeply troubled student named Annabelle. With Paige’s approval, Claudia attempts to help the girl through graphotherapy – specific hand movement exercises combined with therapeutic music – but before any success can be measured, tragedy strikes.
Claudia is soon locked in a violent maelstrom of greed, jealousy, revenge and murder. Her detective boyfriend is miles away working on his own case and Claudia must use her professional training as well as her wits to stay alive and to stand between the innocents and the monsters that pursue them.
Lowe’s first hand knowledge and experience as a graphologist are evident in her writing. She weaves in the several aspects of her profession – signature authentication, personality analysis/behavior profiling, and graphotherapy – so skillfully that readers are entertained and yet come away with a new respect for the science.
WRITTEN IN BLOOD is a fascinating and complex murder mystery that keeps readers involved and guessing till the exciting climax, and then adds a teaser epilogue to assure them that there’ll be more books in the series.
The Fall of Optimum House
by Alice Zogg
Aventine Press, 2007, $15.95
Review by Jacqueline Vick
R.A. Huber is an unusual sleuth. She’s sixty-something, petite, and as at home on skis as she is in a silk suit. So she’s the perfect choice to help ex-model Iris Camden and her former football star Jeffrey, owners of the exclusive Optimum House—a modeling school, weight loss center, and escape for the elite.
Someone’s been playing practical jokes on the residents of Optimum House. At first the pranks are harmless, such as hiding the principal’s alarm clock, but when a movie star’s diamond bracelet goes missing, Iris thinks it’s time to call in a private detective. There’s also been serious tragedy at Optimum House–the accidental drowning of a maid—and Iris worries about the emotional impact this will have on her clients. After all, they come there for a peaceful escape.
Huber accepts the assignment, but she surprises Iris when she sends someone else in her place. Antoinette “Andi” LeJeune, a young, leggy redhead who once asked Iris for a job, would easily fit in with the modeling students. Andi is thrilled to have the assignment, though she knows nothing of fashion and beauty. She soon makes friends with her roommate Cyrilla and a young health client, Troy.
Andi reports her findings back to Huber regularly, but when Jeffry Camden is beaten to death on the golf course and young Troy is sent to the hospital, Huber comes to Optimum House, personally.
She finds the staff frightened and the clientele uneasy. Parents are pulling the students out, and the high-paying patrons are ready to leave.
Before Huber can unmask the killer, tragedy strikes again. Will she be able to stop a fourth murder? Or will that murder be her own?
Optimum House moves at a quick pace because Zogg keeps her chapters short and crisp. The characters have secrets, some of them startling, and the addition of assistant Andi added depth to the investigation. A perfect book for that holiday flight.