WE, THE JURY

Cover for We the JuryBy Robert Rotstein
Perfect 10
Blackstone Publishing
ISBN: 978-1-5384-4090-2
ASIN: B07CNQ2DZS
October 2018
Mystery

Sepulveda, California – The Present

WE THE JURY is told from fourteen viewpoints during a jury’s deliberation of a murder trial. Each chapter tells a viewpoint from the judge, the prosecuting attorney, the husband and paralegal of the defending attorney, the courtroom clerk, the bailiff, a blogger, or from one of the eight members of the jury. This approach is very different but riveting. The reader learns about the defendant, David Sullinger, through varying jury member’s interpretations of court testimony on how and why he murdered his wife. Also exposed are their son Dillon, age 16, and daughter Lacey, age 17, who testify for or against their father. To complicate the issue, David’s wife Amanda was his former high school teacher and the family breadwinner. David’s expensive defense lawyer, Jenna Blaylock, has presented her client as an abused spouse who defended himself. The local prosecuting attorney, Jack Cranston, is shown through these viewpoints as Blaylock’s opposite: unattractive, unfashionable, stumbling over his words, and apparently inept. The jury begins deliberations ready to acquit.

What emerges is a ‘is he guilty or innocent?’ debate, but through a very convoluted set of narratives. Each juror bases their interpretation of facts on their own thoughts and beliefs about what they saw or heard, or remembered or not, in court. The eight jurors come from different social experiences and mindsets with accompanying prejudices. They sort truth, misconception, deliberate deception, and lies based on the testimony and evidence presented to deliver the verdict. Some jurors have personal motivations behind their convictions. The jury’s diversity emerges from the epithets given: the Foreperson, the Architect, the Housewife, the Grandmother, the Student, and the Jury Consultant, all women; and the two men jurors, the Clergyman and the Express Messenger/Actor. Each viewpoint gives a very different assessment of what is happening in the deliberation process. Outside the courthouse, a very determined, quasi-journalist/blogger is presenting her own agenda about the defendant and trial.

In the meantime, a reader becomes aware of the two attorneys and their mindsets about truth, lies, and justice. The presiding judge has just lost her beloved husband and leaves the reader wondering if this has impaired her judgement. The dedicated and concerned courtroom clerk and bailiff help keep the judge in order and the process moving, but have concerns.

All of this shows how society and courtrooms blend in determining guilt or innocence. The author, who has a law degree, also plays the reader very effectively, taking them on a bumpy journey of belief/disbelief about innocence and guilt, but he also gives a complex view of how the justice system works, and how it also can be played. Few readers will foresee the very unexpected ending.

Robin Lee

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BUZZ: The Nature and Necessity of Bees

BUZZBy author Thor Hanson
From publisher Basic Books
ISBN-10: 0465052614
ISBN-13: 978-0465052615
Publish date: July, 2018

BUZZ is more than a title because a ‘buzz’ of interest kept me reading. The information on the evolution of bees from wasps, changing from carnivores to vegetarians during the age of dinosaurs, was fascinating, as was learning how long man has been harvesting and treasuring honey. It shows cave paintings of this activity! As a gardener, I also found the number of bee species astounding and their effects on how flowers developed through the millennia interesting. Only recently I learned Michigan has over 300 variety of bees, but had no idea on how many species there are in the world. All the information Mr. Hanson gives on the many types of bees in BUZZ is thought-provoking, and goes far beyond the scope of honey bees and their decline.

BUZZ is a well written personal narrative telling of the author’s own interest and journey of discovery on the topic of bees. Author Thor Hanson writes in easy to understand language rather than in the jargon of science, but he provides quick definitions when words of a scientific nature are used and gives supporting evidence on his information from many experts in the field. BUZZ also holds a message that humans need to become more aware of their relationship to the creatures and plants that surround us and makes living possible.

THE ARTISAN HEART

By Dean Mayes
Perfect 10
Central Avenue Publishing
ISBN: 978-1-77168-142-1 (Paperback)
ISBN: 978-1-77168-143-8 (E-book)
September 2018
Contemporary Romance

Adelaide and Walhalla, Australia

Doctor Hayden Luschcombe is an emergency paediatrician in the city of Adelaide in the South Australia territory and married to event planner Bernadette Magnion. As he is about to leave the hospital for one of her events, for which he has promised he would arrive on time, an emergency calls him. It is not the first time Bernadette had found him wanting, but when he comes home and finds her in bed with another man, he leaves his house. Then another emergency has Hayden fending off the attack of a father whose daughter Hayden suspects suffers not from an accidental failure to test the bath’s water temperature, as claimed by the mother, but a purposeful scalding of the little girl’s lower body. The hospital releases him from duty until the case can be sorted out. Escaping his life, Hayden travels to the village of Walhalla in the mountains of New South Wales. Here is the cottage where his parents lived, where he grew up, and which he closed up three years ago when his father died.

While working on the cottage’s leaking roof, a small girl, this one deaf, attacks Hayden. He knows sign language because his mother was deaf. He learns her name is Genevieve, and he recognizes her mother, Isabelle Sampi, who as a young girl taunted and tormented the young, shy child Hayden. She is a baker now, trying to reestablish a bakery in an old and dilapidated nineteenth century building. What neither Hayden nor Isabelle know is how much they share, including love for the mischievous but kind and intelligent Genevieve.

The Artisan Heart is a riveting romance whose protagonists have troubled pasts but find the courage to start again in the small, close-knit community of Walhalla. Serious danger comes from Isabelle’s past, and certainly Bernadette has an agenda to encourage Hayden to remain in their marriage, which creates some great drama. Author Dean Mayes, who lives in Adelaide, wonderfully presents the Australian setting. While many romances share some plot points, Hayden’s perspective made this story different and unique. All the characters in THE ARTISAN HEART read as real people, another wonderful aspect of this story that earns it a Perfect 10.

FRESH FROM THE GARDEN: An Organic Guide to Growing Vegetables, Berries, and Herbs in Cold Climates

By John Whitman
University of Minnesota Press
ISBN 978-0-8166-9839-4
February 2017|
Non-Fiction; Gardening

FRESH FROM THE GARDEN is a marvelous book. It is a large and comprehensive volume for growing edible food plants only, but discusses edible flower garden plants and other unusual and unexpected edible plants. This book is for gardening in cold areas like mine, and as a long-time gardener, I know this can be difficult.

Part I is devoted to the basics of gardening and growing crops organically. It explains a variety of approaches from growing in containers to creating many types of land gardens. Soil and compost is explained along with how to water and fertilize. Directions for planting seeds is provided, but it also includes other methods of propagation. It explains how to grow crops and how to weed and harvest them. The information goes further to include culinary terms, food storage, and even gives reasons why some people love or hate a particular vegetable. All the tools and products necessary for gardening are listed along with safety tips. Great photos and many easy-to-understand charts supplement the text.

One thing among the many I learned was that pH means potential hydrogen. I’ve known what a pH reading was and how it applies to plants, but not what the acronym meant. It’s not only the solid information but also the good advice provided, such as the myth the gardener controls their garden, and that there is not just one but many ways to achieve a bountiful harvest. Author John Whitman encourages gardeners to use whatever method works best for them.

The most wonderful part of FRESH FROM THE GARDEN is Part II– an extensive listing of all the vegetables, berries and herbs that can be grown in the food garden. Many I have grown, but even more I haven’t. From asparagus to zucchini, every crop is described. The information includes when and where to plant, the plant’s nutritional facts, the varieties available, how to grow it, problems and pests that can occur, and how to harvest and store the crop.

While FRESH FROM THE GARDEN is invaluable for gardeners in cold areas, defined in the book as anywhere the temperature can dip below -20° Fahrenheit, the basic information is relevant anywhere. The extensive list and discussion of crop foods makes this garden book one every gardener will seek out repeatedly, not only when choosing plants to grow for the upcoming season, but also whenever problems or questions occur during the growing or harvesting of those crops. For beginning gardeners or experienced gardeners, FRESH FROM THE GARDEN offers effective gardening know-how.

THE GIRL WHO KNEW TOO MUCH

Book CoverAmanda Quick
Berkley
ISBN: 978-0-399-174447-6
May 2017
Mystery

Burning Cove, California, 1930s

Anna Harris, personal secretary to socialite Helen Spencer, finds her very generous boss murdered in her luxurious bedroom. Helen left a message in her blood on the wall: ‘RUN.’ Anna quickly packs, and pulls out money she has saved from a shoebox in her bedroom closet. More is inside the box than should be there: more money, a small black leather notebook with indecipherable information, and a letter from Helen. The letter again warns Anna to run and never look back. It also instructs her to never give the notebook to anyone, including the FBI. It is her insurance. Anna flees New York. Once she can think straight, she heads for the other side of the country. Four months later she is Irene Glasson, a gossip reporter. At the exclusive Burning Cove Hotel, Irene finds Gloria Maitland, rumored lover of the up-and-coming movie star Nick Tremayne, dead at the bottom of the lap pool in the hotel’s spa. Irene hears someone walking toward her, and fearing for her life, escapes to a more public place. After the police leave, hotel owner Oliver Ward questions her. Irene tells him Gloria chose the time and place to meet, luring Irene with a hot scoop for the gossip rag where Irene works. Irene thinks the scoop might have something to do with Nick Tremayne, and she suspects he murdered Gloria to keep her quiet.

A dangerous trick ended magician-performer Oliver Ward’s career, nearly killing him onstage. To survive, he sank every cent he had into buying the Burning Cove Hotel, a place now known for its luxury, privacy, and security, a place where movie stars and other high-profile guests love to stay. As a magician he learned how to redirect people’s attention and how to read their expressions. He is very good at both talents, but Irene Glasson gives little away. This intrigues him, because he knows she hides secrets.

There are many intriguing characters involved in this mystery. Graham Enright, owner of a New York law firm, tells his son Julian to retrieve the invaluable black notebook no matter what it takes. Julian is as handsome and as charismatic as any movie star, including Nick Tremayne. Nick’s assistant Claudia Picton, Oliver’s uncle Chester, and his friend Luther Pell, also have important roles in the story. Irene is resolute about her investigation because a similar murder killed a fellow reporter, which also seems tied to Nick Tremayne. Soon she is involved in yet another murder, but is the murderer after Anna Harris or Irene Glasson?

This well-done mystery takes the reader back to the period of black-and-white movies, the wild life styles of the famous and rich, and a time with few of today’s instantaneous electronics. It involves one person with two different identities, each persona tied to different murder mysteries. Both Irene and Oliver have dark secrets, both have had to reinvent themselves, and both of them have a general distrust of others. It is an interesting era to visit, with fascinating characters caught in a murderous conundrum, earning THE GIRL WHO KNEW TOO MUCH a Romance Reviews Today Perfect 10.

Yes, I received an ARC (Advance Review Copy) of this book from
Romance Reviews Today where this review will also be published. I post it here because it is an excellent book, personable characters with past histories and present problems, good mystery and suspense, and romance.

Flock Together: A Love Affair with Extinct Birds

flock-together

By B. J. Hollars
University of Nebraska Press
ISBN 10: 0-803-29642-8
ISBN 13: 978-0-803-29642-8)
January 2017

FLOCK TOGETHER is a narrative journey of the author, B. J. Hollars, to become a birder, but also to present a warning to humanity. It starts with the presumed extinction of the Ivory Billed Woodpecker, last seen in 1972, but then claimed to have been seen in 2005. (I have to insert here that I believe I saw two at Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri in 1982? 83? – They were huge, had the red top knot and I distinctly remember the white on the wings since I was looking the strange looking woodpecker up in a bird book. Our local DNR said I was mistaken. Maybe, only remember what I thought I saw.) Hollars also went to a Passenger Pigeon Symposium, which led him to a monument for the bird with the following wording on its base: “The species became extinct through the avarice and thoughtlessness of man.” Who knew mankind could kill billions of pigeons in 40 years? The monument is right, what an ignoble exploit. He talks about many other birders who spend time recording bird sightings and their viewpoints, and spends much effort in searching out museums about birds and their legacies. He claims the dwindling numbers of North American birds are due to loss of habitat, cats (Oh, God, I’m guilty), and windows. I am glad to say I could list more names of birds than he claimed the average American could list, but then you have to consider my name, Robin. I do agree, also, with his statement that the in the Bible, God gave man dominion over animals for care giving rather than consumption. So true, after all, He gave no guarantee of a second world if we screw this one up. Bird watching is not quite what most people think it is. Yes it is searching for different birds and keeping a bragging list, but it is also about caring for the environment and all the creatures living on Earth. Throughout his narrative, Hollars gives us warning to be aware of the many warnings we’ve already had, and to become the concerned caregivers we should have been all along.

100 PLANTS TO FEED THE BEES: Provide a Healthy Habitat to Help Pollinators Thrive

100 Plants to Feed the Bees
The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation
Published December 2016 by Storey Publishing, LLC
ISBN-10: 1612-12701-0
ISBN-13: 978-1612-12701-9

While this book is a handbook of plants insects need, it is an important book for every gardener. The book begins with a very interesting short version of the multi-million year history of how plants and insects evolved into essential partnerships. For those who have ignored environmental problems, bees have been disappearing, and bees and humans also have an essential partnership. The DNR claims bees pollinate approximately roughly 75% of the vegetables, fruits, and nuts we eat. Personally, I love those plant products and want to keep bees around to do what they do best. Unfortunately, I’ve also noticed a distinct decline in the number of honeybees visiting my plants.

100 PLANTS TO FEED THE BEES offers an extensive list of plants whose flowers provide nectar and pollen for bees, and not only honey bees but native bees and other pollinators such as moths, butterflies, and hummingbirds. Each plant section contains a photo of the plant, the plant’s botanical name, and some basic information on the plant, plus a map of where it grows. Interesting information and sometimes warnings about the plant are also included. An example of a warning is mustard, which is considered a noxious weed in some locations, and illegal to grow.

Included in the 100 plants are native wildflowers and non-native or introduced wildflowers (weeds), garden plants, herbs, trees and shrubs, and even pasture plants. I was glad to see many of the plants I’ve recognized growing in my area, and my garden holds many other recommended selections. I was surprised to see Tilia Americana or the common basswood tree, until I remembered standing under my trees when in bloom and hearing myriad bees busy in the tree’s unseen upper stories. I appreciated the list of insects each plant attracts far beyond bees, too. I looked over an online version of the book, and then pre-order a volume. I recommend all gardeners purchase a copy of 100 PLANTS TO FEED THE BEES, and a big thanks to Xerces Society authors Eric Lee-Mäder, Jarrod Fowler, Jillian Vento, and Jennifer Hopwood for this work.

NEAREST THING TO HEAVEN

book coverLynnette Austin
Maverick Junction, Book 2
Forever Yours
ISBN: 978-1-4555-2838-7
January 2017
Contemporary Romance Review for Romance Reviews Today

Maverick Junction, Texas – The Present

Sophie London lives in Chicago near Wrigley Stadium, a city she loves as much as their baseball team, the Cubs. She has been daydreaming and needs to hurry to get to O’Hare airport to travel to Texas and her wealthy cousin’s wedding to a cowboy. Everyone thinks she is an heiress like Annelise, but she isn’t, the wealth is all on her cousin’s side of the family. She works hard designing greeting cards to keep her apartment. She is glad to leave, even temporarily, the city’s current bad November weather and the specter of Nathan, who keeps plaguing her with calls even after she politely told him she wasn’t interested. On her one previous visit to the town filled with handsome Texan cowboys, she remembers one cowboy, a widower, one of whose triplet sons spilled a cherry soda on her white silk dress. Of course, the handsome Ty Rawlins will attend the wedding.

Ty Rawlins lost his wife four years ago shortly after their triplet sons were born premature. He and Julia had been best friends since first grade. Since losing her, taking care of their boys and his ranch has kept him busy and his grief at bay. Yet his friend Cash’s fiancée’s cousin, Sophie, stirs him up in a way he didn’t think possible. She looks like the fairy Tinkerbell, and he calls her ‘Tink.’ Yet his boys are probably more than any woman wants, and he has to put them first.

NEAREST THING TO HEAVEN is a re-release of a book published in 2013 and part of a three-book series. Sophie believes in fairies and magic, and charm certainly fills the story making it enthralling. Ty and Sophie have many obstacles to overcome besides love of rival baseball teams. Memories of Julia still haunt Ty. Mischance frequently sabotages his come-on to Sophie. Sophie refuses to believe Nathan is stalking her, but is very uneasy about her situation. She finds Maverick Junction an alien place after the big city, but the stars at night are spellbinding. And once she gets to know the triplets, she discovers how much she will miss them…and Ty. The attraction they both feel is more than physical, but both know it is only temporary…and they do separate.

This is a story of attraction, an unlikely romance, and new beginnings, but includes the power of family and community. Wonderful characters inhabit Maverick Junction, so if you haven’t read this before, read it now; if you have, re-read it! Then read the first book in the series, SOMEBODY LIKE YOU, and the third, CAN’T STOP LOVIN’ YOU.

Robin Lee

THE LAST GOOD GIRL

Cover for "The Last Good Girl"Allison Leotta
Anna Curtis Series – Book 5
Touchstone
ISBN: 978-1-4767-6111-4
ISBN: 978-1-4767-6113-8
May 2016
Suspense

Detroit, Michigan – The Present

Anna Curtis is a successful U.S. Attorney in the Washing ton D.C. Sex Crimes Division. After her fiancé’s missing wife turned up, and Jody, Anna’s sister, called needing her as a lawyer for a murder accusation, she returned to her home state of Michigan. There she met Cooper Bolden, a veteran with PTSD, and other scars including a missing leg. After Jody’s house burned, Cooper invited them to move into the old Detroit mansion he has restored. He is urban farmer growing apples. His goal is the restoration of the distressed city. Jody has a new baby, and Anna for the first time thinks of becoming a mother. Her and Jody’s father abused their mother, and both daughters have trouble dealing with their past. Things have been going well, but then Anna receives a call from Jack, her former fiancé. He is in Michigan investigating college sex crimes. He wants her to help on the disappearance of the daughter of Tower University’s president. She accepts the job. She will be working with FBI Agent Samantha Randazzo.

Emily Shapiro was a freshman at Towers, an event she has looked forward to since a child, but even her father’s position won’t save her from an encounter at a prestigious fraternity’s party. There she meets Dylan Brooks. What Emily doesn’t know is this fraternity is often disparaged as ‘the Rape Factory.’ By her second day on campus as a student, a rohypnol-laced drink has made naïve Emily another statistic. She thought her father’s position would help her, but that is just another disappointment Emily must bear. Even with all the betrayal, hateful remarks, and shamming aimed at her, she remains determined to gain justice. However, the father of her rapist is a big donor to the Tower and a highly placed elected official in Michigan. After posting some vlogs about her rape online, neighborhood cameras show Dylan chasing Emily late at night, making him the last person to see her before she disappeared.

This volume follows A GOOD KILLING (2015), which I also gave a Perfect 10. If a book keeps me up all night, it deserves that award. Although it is a continuation, readers needn’t have read A GOOD KILLING to understand the action, but will want to. In THE LAST GOOD GIRL the interactions between all of the characters are superb and the triangle set up between Anna, Cooper, and Jack adds to the dynamics. The investigative and legal procedures are very realistic, and campus rape is a very current issue. Oh, and Cooper’s brother is pledging Dylan’s fraternity! Living with abusive or neglectful parents, and how the kids deal with it, is another sub theme. These elements all add up to perfection. Loved this story!

JILTING THE DUKE

jilting the duke
Rachael Miles
The Muses’ Salon Series – Book 1
Zebra Shout
ISBN: 978-1-4201-4086-6
February 2016
Historical Romance

London, 1819

As a young man, Aidan Somerville  fell in love with Sophia, the orphaned niece of the man owning the estate adjoining that of his best friend Tom Gardiner. He asked her to marry him, and she agreed, but Aidan wanted to keep it secret. His father ordered him into the military, and before his ship even left dock, he discovered Sophia had married his best friend. Her betrayal has haunted his dreams for ten years. He is now the Duke of Forster, his father and two older brothers having died. One year ago Tom died in Italy, where he and Sophia had been living with their son Ian. Tom’s lawyer, William Aldine, has sent Aidan papers. Although neither man had seen each other in all that time, Tom requested his friend become his son’s guardian in conjunction with the boy’s mother. A plan evolves in Aidan’s mind. He will use the opportunity to seduce Sophia, and once she loves him again, he will cast her off to feel all the heartache he has suffered.

Still grieving and reluctant to enter a society she had never had entry into before her marriage, Sophia, Lady Wilmot, is surprised at all the plans Tom has kept from her. However, she knows Ian needs a man’s influence as he grows up and has always acquiesced to Tom’s plans. Still, she suspects Aidan’s motives and actions. Yet, he is also the only man she has loved the way she loved him, with all her heart. While she and Tom had worked on botanical books together, he accomplishing the writing, and she the illustrations, and although Tom saved her from a terrible situation developed by her step-aunt’s machinations, their love wasn’t what she shared with Aidan. She and Tom had been friends. It also comes as a shock to discover someone is willing to destroy her to get something Tom sent to England.

Aidan’s anger and hurt are quickly established in JILTING THE DUKE. While Aidan’s desire for revenge is understood, his plot casts him in a scoundrel’s shoes. After all, he has had his share of mistresses and is known as a rake. Throughout the story, though, his actions contradict his nefarious purpose. The first instance is his behavior towards Ian, a young, intelligent boy who wins Aidan’s regard and then his love. As for Sophia, he finds it is one thing to want to hurt someone you still love, and another thing to actual do it; especially when he learns she is in danger. Strong, well-developed main characters with a huge cast of supporting characters, interesting situations including intrigue and spies, and a love that cannot be denied make this a entrancing read.

Reviewed for Romance Reviews Today