Hope Never Dies: An Obama Biden Mystery by Andrew Shaffer

Hope Never Dies
An Obama Biden Mystery
by
Andrew Shaffer

Rating:

Andrew Shaffer had a very funny idea. Why not write a mystery with Barack Obama and Joe Biden as amateur detectives? If you’ve ever seen some of the Obama-Biden “bromance” memes (click here for a few), you’ll know this pair has plenty of rapport to wrap around a good story line. Who better to solve a mystery than the former President and Vice President of the United States?

The story begins soon after the 2016 election. Obama has adjusted nicely to a new life filled with adventure. He’s windsurfing, kayaking and hanging out with celebrities. But Biden is at loose ends and is a little stung by Obama’s new life and friends. “Why doesn’t Barack ever call me, his best friend?” he wonders.

The pair reconnects when Biden’s favorite train conductor dies under suspicious circumstances. “Amtrak Joe” senses there is more to the story. Biden has been a regular on Amtrak for decades and he knows that Finn Donnelly was a good, family man. But questions arise when Obama shares what police know. Could there be a national security interest at stake? Is Donnelly’s death connected to opioid trafficking?

Biden takes the lead and jumps straight into the case in his full-force, pantser style. And before long, Obama and his cool and calm self are part of the team. As the pair bumbles through their undercover investigation, in caps and shades, it becomes clear that this case is big and that not everyone is on the same team. Can the Obama-Biden team sort it out?

I thoroughly enjoyed imagining Obama and Biden as they adjust to their new lives as regular citizens. And seeing them operate as amateur detectives makes for many hilarious scenarios. Shady characters and a few false leads make the mystery an enjoyable puzzle to solve and, while the crimes and consequences reflect grim problems, the story is light and great fun to read.

I recommend Hope Never Dies to all readers. It is pure entertainment, with a few political jabs and a lot of laughs.


I received a copy of Hope Never Dies from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.


I read Hope Never Dies as part of my library’s Summer Reading Challenge to choose a book because I like its cover.

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Death in a Mudflat by N. A. Granger

Death in a Mudflat
by
N.A. Granger

Rating:

When a dead woman’s body emerges from a mudflat in Pequod, Maine, it doesn’t matter that part-time detective Rhe Brewster and the chief of police are at a wedding across the way. Rhe and her former brother-in-law (and new love interest), Sam Brewster, are more than willing to run over, don a set of hazmat suits and secure the scene.

Sam and Rhe can only initially guess at the whys and hows, but their expert team’s careful attention to detail and Rhe’s nose for making connections take the reader on an investigation that is both cozy and challenging and in which Rhe places herself in many dangerous situations. Is she reckless or is she just an ace detective? Now that they’re a couple, Sam may have trouble working this out.

Death in a Mudflat is Granger’s fourth Rhe Brewster mystery, a fun series set in the fictional coastal town of Pequod. In this small-town setting, Granger has developed a cast of characters and community that reflect New England values and personalities. But just like other small towns and larger communities across the country, Pequod struggles with modern problems, including the east coast’s growing heroin crisis.

As the investigation continues, Rhe and Sam discover possible connections to other deaths, casting doubt on several shady characters. And when a student from Pequod College turns up dead, they must consider an even larger case. Granger does a great job introducing the second case into the story and readers won’t know if they are connected until the story’s exciting end.

These investigations consume a lot of time, while Rhe continues to work as an Emergency Room nurse at Sturtevant Hospital and also raise her son, Jack, an active eight-year-old. But Rhe, Sam and their friends manage to keep the fun going in their own lives. A little romance and a couple fights over Rhe’s risk-taking make the story both realistic and entertaining. In addition, Rhe’s close friendship with Paulette McGillivray adds another dimension to the story when Paulette joins a mystery group dedicated to solving cold cases.

Granger’s extensive medical knowledge shows, as Rhe’s hospital and police life forever overlap. The author also includes details about modern police procedures and technology which greatly enhance the story. Readers will also enjoy how Granger incorporates hot coffee and many tasty foods into her characters’ days, often from the Pie and Pickle, Pequod’s local café.

Themes about love, friendship, helping others and justice over the bad guys make Death in a Mudflat and the whole series great reads and I recommend these stories to mystery readers who like a good puzzle as well as others who enjoy reading about modern life in a small town.

Also by N. A. Granger:

Death in a Red Canvas Chair
Death in a Dacron Sail
Death by Pumpkin
Death at the Asylum (coming 2020)


I read Death in a Mudflat as part of my library’s Summer Reading Challenge to read a book set within the past 20 years.

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The Dry by Jane Harper

The Dry
by
Jane Harper

Genre: Mystery

Rating:

Federal Agent Aaron Falk left his home town of Kiewarra in Victoria, Australia, twenty years ago, right after Ellie Deacon died in the river. Now another of Falk’s childhood friends, Luke Hadler and his family, are dead. Despite the friendship, Falk would rather stay in Melbourne, but when he receives a letter from Luke’s father, he knows he must go back. Gerry Hadler’s words are unsettling: “Luke lied. You lied. Be at the funeral.”

Falk dreads returning to a town that chased him and his father away years ago, all because of an alibi that no one believed. Since then, lies and secrets have crippled the small farming town and a two-year drought has made everyone desperate. Falk wants to get in for the funeral and get out as soon as he can, but at the service, a chilling picture rotates through the slide show. Luke, Falk, Ellie and Gretchen Schoner, a tight teenage foursome and now only two are left. Is there a connection between Ellie’s death and the Hadler murders?

When Luke’s parents ask him to look into the murders, Falk reluctantly agrees. Headed by Kiewarra’s new Sergeant Raco, Falk and Raco follow leads and suspicions as hostility against Falk grows. Nothing is at it seems, however, and Falk will have to dig to the raw core to understand, if he survives the process.

The Dry is a terrific atmospheric thriller in which Kiewarra’s setting on the edge of the bushland and the drought’s devastating effects weigh heavy on the characters. False leads, unclear motives and complex relationships make this story both an entertaining read and a more serious study of human behavior. Why do people keep secrets and what could have been different if the truth were told? Harper may not have the answer, but she shows how lies and secrets can crush.

I recommend The Dry to readers who enjoy mysteries and to anyone who is interested in human behavior. I’m looking forward to reading Harper’s next book, Force of Nature.


I read The Dry as part of my library’s Summer Reading
Challenge to “read a book set in a place you’d like to visit.”


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Tell No One by Harlan Coben

Tell No One
by
Harlan Coben

Rating:

Dr. David Beck’s life fell apart eight years ago when his wife Elizabeth was taken by strangers. Even though a serial killer sits in prison, Beck can’t move on. He trudges through life and work as a pediatrician in a low-income New York neighborhood. The years have passed, but how can he let go of his best friend and sweetheart?

When Beck receives a computer message, he’s certain it’s from Elizabeth because it’s about something only she would know. But there’s a warning: “Tell no one.”

Readers are in for a wild ride as Beck tries to make sense of this message and later instructions. Set in New Jersey, New York and parts of Pennsylvania, the story revolves around Beck, his sister Linda and her partner, plus-size supermodel Shauna, as well as Elizabeth’s cop family. Added to the mix is the powerful billionaire, Griffin Scope, a third-generation rich guy. Scope is consumed by avenging the death of his golden-boy son Brandon and by preserving Brandon’s good-works charitable foundation, headed, coincidently, by Linda.

Several messages later, Beck is certain Elizabeth is still alive. He needs help and turns to Shauna. Shauna keeps him grounded, but events get out of hand when Beck becomes a wanted man for murder.

Coben leads the reader through the preliminaries, then adds a great variety of side characters, including my favorite, the conflicted Tyrese Barton and the unknowable bad guy Eric Wu, someone you don’t want to meet in an alley. Other characters with questionable morality, but a sliver of conscience make this story more than just a thriller, but an interesting character study.

In addition to an exciting plot, Coben’s writing style is full of dry humor as well as many laugh-out-loud moments, as Beck somehow escapes certain death, more than once.

Just as in an action movie, Tell No One is a terrific, fast-moving suspense, with twists and turns to the final page. I recommend this book to readers who enjoy reading about the battle between good and evil in a highly entertaining story.

And if you like watching action movies, Tell No One was adapted to the screen in the French film of the same name. Read all about it here.

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Book Talk – The Rooster Bar by John Grisham

Image: Pixabay

Welcome to a new and occasional feature on Book Club Mom called Book Talk, home to quick previews of new books that catch my eye.

Every Christmas my dad gives the women in our family a book. We each receive a different title, chosen specifically for us. I like this tradition. It reminds me of years ago when he used to pick out books for me and my siblings. This year I received The Rooster Bar by John Grisham.

Back in the 1990s, I tore through The Firm, The Pelican Brief and The Client. I wonder if he remembers this? These were excellent stories and the movies were also very entertaining. A few years ago I read The Racketeer and remembered why I liked John Grisham books.

So The Rooster Bar is waiting for me and I’ll get to it soon. Meantime, here’s a quick blurb from Amazon:

Mark, Todd, and Zola came to law school to change the world, to make it a better place. But now, as third-year students, these close friends realize they have been duped. They all borrowed heavily to attend a third-tier, for-profit law school so mediocre that its graduates rarely pass the bar exam, let alone get good jobs. And when they learn that their school is one of a chain owned by a shady New York hedge-fund operator who also happens to own a bank specializing in student loans, the three know they have been caught up in The Great Law School Scam.

But maybe there’s a way out. Maybe there’s a way to escape their crushing debt, expose the bank and the scam, and make a few bucks in the process. But to do so, they would first have to quit school. And leaving law school a few short months before graduation would be completely crazy, right?  Well, yes and no . . .

Pull up a stool, grab a cold one, and get ready to spend some time at The Rooster Bar.

John Grisham has written thirty-one novels, one nonfiction book, a story collection, and six novels for young readers. You can learn more about him at jgrisham.com.

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The Moth Catcher by Ann Cleeves

The Moth Catcher
by
Ann Cleeves

Rating:

Genre:  English murder mystery

Detective Inspector Vera Stanhope and her team have little to go on when a house sitter with a PhD and a former teacher are murdered near the English Northumberland village of Gilswick. Are the murders connected and how?

Vera is a shrewd investigator, but the case is a puzzle. Why would Patrick Randle, fresh out of university, defer a research position and sign on as a house sitter? Who was Martin Benton and what happened when the two met? Detectives Joe Ashworth and Holly Clarke are at Vera’s command and they soon discover a possible connection: moth catching. This strange interest, shared by both men, may be the link.

There is much to understand, however, including the relationships between three retired couples who live down the lane. They call themselves the “retired hedonists” and seem to be good friends, but Vera senses an undercurrent. Other characters with shady or unknown histories make the mystery a challenge for readers who like to crack a case before the last page.

This is my first Ann Cleeves mystery, but fans will know the Vera Stanhope character well and may have watched Vera, the British television series, starring Brenda Blethyn. Cleeves has created a unique personality—Vera is middle-aged, overweight, controlling, a little obsessed, with a few regrets and buried insecurities. But she’s a genius detective who knows how to dig. She is often bossy with Joe and Holly, who have their own talents and a little personal baggage. Both Joe and Holly silently crave Vera’s respect and confidence, and hope for one of Vera’s rare nuggets of praise. I enjoyed this work dynamic and think it’s one of the book’s strongest elements.

I also enjoyed the author’s descriptions of homes, their interiors, and a sort of running commentary on what the gardens were like and whether or not they were weeded. Food and caffeine sources also get frequent mention, keeping the reader amused.

Cleeves’ characters struggle with many issues. For Vera, Joe and Holly, they question their career choices. The hedonists secretly wonder if retiring out in the country has given them enough to do with their days. Other themes include family, money, relationships and women’s roles.

Although Cleeves includes many interesting personalities and scenery, I was disappointed by the plot. I’m a “go along for the ride” mystery reader, so it didn’t bother me that the finish was difficult to predict, but the moth catching angle fell flat, especially the author’s reference to global warming. Moths became a small and irrelevant connection and I felt misled by the title.

Despite this gripe, I enjoyed The Moth Catcher and would recommend it to mystery readers who like strong personalities and entertaining commentary.

Are you a mystery reader? What do you like best about this genre?

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The Secrets of Wishtide by Kate Saunders

The Secrets of Wishtide
by
Kate Saunders

Rating:

When Laetitia Rodd’s lawyer brother summons her for a meeting, she knows he has some work for her. It’s 1850 and the 50-something widow has made a name for herself in the Hampstead section of London. With an eye for detail and a nose for the truth, Lettie is a lady detective way ahead of her time.

The task seems straightforward enough: uncover the past of Helen Orme and thwart Charles Calderstone’s efforts to marry her. The wealthy and powerful Sir James Calderstone is behind this request. He’s pushing his son to marry Esther Grahames, a cousin and childhood playmate.

Posing as a governess for Charles’ younger sisters, Lettie moves in with the Calderstones at their Wishtide estate. And it isn’t long before a murder puts Charles in jail and presents Lettie with a much meatier case. Lettie and her brother are convinced Charles is innocent and to save him from the gallows, they know it’s a race to find a mysterious killer known as “Prince.”

The Secrets of Wishtide is the first book in the Laetitia Rodd mysteries. A huge fan of Charles Dickens, Saunders based her story on David Copperfield and uses her characters to develop themes of love, marriage, women’s rights, and class distinction, all in equal measure. In addition, several of her characters must live with their reputations as fallen women as they watch men pursue relationships outside marriage.

The story moves quickly, despite a long list of characters. While some expert mystery readers may be able to figure out who Prince is, key details reveal themselves only as the plot develops, making it an entertaining read.  I also liked reading about the creature comforts of the times – warm fires, hot tea, spirits and ale, good food and good humor. It seems as if the author is suggesting that, despite the hardships of the times, and the big trouble in which many of her characters find themselves, they seem to know how to make their own happiness.

The book finishes with a satisfying conclusion and hints of the future help the reader imagine what might happen in the next book. No doubt the side characters in this book will make appearances in the next and I look forward to seeing how Lettie’s character develops. I recommend The Secrets of Wishtide to readers who like entertaining mysteries on top of more serious themes.

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Last Stop in Brooklyn by Lawrence H. Levy

Last Stop in Brooklyn
by
Lawrence H. Levy

Rating:

It’s 1894 and Mary Handley, New York’s first female detective, has a lot on her plate in this clever historical mystery, the third in the series which features Handley as a fearless and modern-thinking independent woman during a time of major growth and social change. The story begins when Brian Murphy hires Mary to find out whether his wife is having an affair. Simple enough until she finds out what the wife is up to, which pertains to the real attempted assassination of Wall Street magnate and railroad titan Russell Sage. A second case brings Mary face-to-face with powerful industrialists, career politicians and corrupt police investigators involved in a highly publicized murder case and all mired in the complex machine that defines turn-of-the-century New York.

Mary’s new case focuses on the actual murder of Carrie Brown, a prostitute who was brutally killed in the city’s East River Hotel. Rumors were that Jack the Ripper had come to America and NYPD Inspector Thomas F. Byrnes was under pressure to solve the crime quickly. The evidence was circumstantial, but an Algerian named Ameer Ben Ali, who was a regular the hotel, was convicted and sent to prison for life. Mary gets involved when Ameer Ben Ali’s brother hires her to find out the real story.

Much of the investigation takes place on Coney Island, Brooklyn’s last stop, which at the time was the largest amusement park and resort destination in the United States. It attracted all types, wealthy vacationers, immigrants and working-class visitors. It was a perfect place to disappear or hide a crime and when another woman is murdered, this time Meg Parker, a black prostitute from the Gut section of Coney Island, Mary wonders if there is a connection to Carrie Brown’s murder. Subsequent murders that follow a pattern make Mary’s investigation a race against the clock, including the whereabouts of a mysterious man with blond hair. To connect the dots, Mary turns to her old boss, Superintendent Campbell and her police officer brother Sean, who put their jobs at risk to help their favorite lady detective.

I enjoyed this new story, which includes many of the city’s actual movers of the time, including Sage, Andrew Carnegie, Teddy Roosevelt, social reform photographer Jacob Riis and Captain Alexander “Clubber” Williams, a corrupt police inspector whose interrogation methods became known as the “third degree.” Levy does a great job showing what New York was like during the 1890s, highlighting the very topical prejudices and difficulties for the immigrant population. Racism and anti-Semitism as well as hatred towards different cultures, especially Arabs, were common and Levy does not hold back when he depicts these beliefs in several uncomfortable scenes. The author balances these and other gritty, adult scenes with the light banter between Mary and her new love interest, reporter Harper Lloyd.

Readers will also like learning more about Mary and her family dynamics, including her very likable father who works in a butcher shop and her meddling mother who wants nothing more than to see Mary settled. This story line reflects an optimism among Mary’s family, despite the prejudices, danger and violence that surrounds them.

I recommend Last Stop in Brooklyn to readers who like imagining what historical figures were like and who enjoy the intrigue of an entertaining mystery.

I received a copy of Last Stop in Brooklyn from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.


Like historical mysteries?  Visit these links for more information about the Mary Handley Mysteries:

Second Street Station



Brooklyn on Fire


Photo Credit: Fran Levy

Author Interview – Lawrence H. Levy


Information about Second Street Station, Edison and Tesla


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The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware

The Woman in Cabin 10
by Ruth Ware
Rating:

Lo Blacklock has a lot of troubles. Her London apartment has been burgled. She takes medication for anxiety, tends to drink too much and can’t seem to get a good night’s sleep.

Getting away on an exclusive luxury cruise may be the answer, but this trip is for her job as a travel journalist for Velocity magazine. Her boss Rowan can’t go and Lo is under pressure to do a good job.

This was my chance to show I could hack it – that I, like Rowan, could network and schmooze and get Velocity’s name in there with the high fliers.

There is a lot of hype about the Aurora and its maiden voyage to see the Northern Lights. The boat is small, but extravagantly decorated. Lo is part of a select group of passengers who will occupy ten cabins:  photographers, journalists, investors, and Lord Richard Bullmer, the ship’s super rich and powerful owner.

Lo isn’t off to a good start. She arrives sleep-deprived and hung over and has barely read her travel packet. And a bad argument with her boyfriend the night before has left their relationship on the rocks. Drinks before and during dinner don’t help, either. When Lo finally passes out in her cabin, she hopes for a long sleep and a fresh start in the morning.

Awakened by a scream and a splash, Lo is certain the woman in Cabin 10 has gone overboard. But no one believes her story. Was she too drunk to remember the events correctly? As the ship continues its journey, Lo tries desperately to uncover the truth, but the other passengers seem to have their own secrets and motives. With no one to trust, and no internet, Lo is alone with her fears. Oh, and by the way, Lo is claustrophobic. Not a good thing when you’re out on a boat.

The Woman in Cabin 10 is very readable suspenseful story. Ruth Ware throws plenty of red herrings into the mix and sets Lo up in many frightening situations that make the reader wonder, is it just Lo’s unreliable reasoning that makes them so scary? Certain discoveries fool the reader into thinking the mystery is solved, a technique I enjoy, only to lead Lo into what seems to be inescapable danger. The story finishes nicely, with satisfying explanations, including several unexpected tie-ups.

I recommend The Woman in Cabin 10 to readers who like to experience the danger of exciting stories from the safety of a comfortable chair. I particularly like the author’s use of an unreliable narrator. Watching flawed character make mistakes is very suspenseful.

I’m the kind of reader who likes to go along for the ride, letting the plot develop. What kind are you? Do you like to solve the mystery before its finish?

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A Great Reckoning by Louise Penny

A Great Reckoning
by
Louise Penny

Rating:

After a deadly hostage situation, Former Chief Inspector Armand Gamache has taken early retirement from the Sûreté du Québec. He’s regrouping in the cozy village of Three Pines with his wife Reine-Marie while he prepares for his new job:  Commander of the Sûreté Academy. There’s been a bad batch of cadets from the police academy, not to mention a corrupt administration, and Gamache is determined to clean house. While some get the axe, new professors are hired, including his boyhood friend, Michel Brébeuf.

Brébeuf is no friend now, however. Their bond shattered after Brébeuf’s unforgivable betrayal while at the Sûreté. Gamache also decides to keep Serge Leduc, formerly second in command at the academy and rumored to be the cruelest and most corrupt at the school. Many are nervous about the changes and wonder, is Gamache doing the right thing?

Classes begin and the cadets and professors settle into the new regime, but it isn’t long before a shocking murder upends the academy. Investigating the murder are Chief Inspector Isabelle Lacoste and an outsider, Deputy Commissioner Paul Gélinas from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

Authorities rule out no one, including Gamache and four cadets, who have been researching a mysterious map found in the wall of the Three Pines bistro. Their relationships and personal histories make an excellent second story and I enjoyed seeing how Penny explains their motives and ties them into the mystery. As the story develops, evidence seems to implicate one of the students, the tattooed and pierced Amelia Choquet, and before long, many questions arise about her relationship with Gamache.

Published in 2016, A Great Reckoning is one of Louise Penny’s more recent Armand Gamache mysteries, a very readable and entertaining story. While it’s clear the characters have a lot of history together in her earlier books, I did not have trouble getting right into the story. She includes many of these side characters and subplots, including the residents of Three Pines and some quirky pets which enhance the story nicely, true to the genre. Her many references to tasty food may also inspire the reader to cook up something a little more sophisticated for dinner!

I particularly enjoyed Penny’s references to poetry, ancient philosophy and literature, which tie together many themes and helped me understand how police investigators think and cope with violent situations. I especially liked this line credited to a Buddhist nun:  “Don’t believe everything you think.” In addition, themes of family, long friendships, loyalty and doing the right thing run through every page, something I love to see in a book.

It is tempting to guess the finish as different characters reveal their motives and explain their involvement, but while answers flow freely in the last few chapters, the puzzle isn’t finished until the very last page.

I recommend A Great Reckoning to mystery readers because of its entertaining setting, characters and plot, but all readers will appreciate Penny’s storytelling talent.

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