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The Qwillery

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Review: Bittersweet by Susan Wittig Albert

Author:  Susan Wittig Albert
Series:  China Bayles 23
Publisher:  Berkley (Prime Crime), April 7, 2015
Format:  Hardcover and eBook, 304 pages
List Price:  $25.95 (print)
ISBN:  9780425255629 (print)
Review Copy:  Provided by the Publisher

Review: Bittersweet by Susan Wittig Albert
New from the author of Death Come Quickly and Widow’s Tears

This Thanksgiving, be grateful for China Bayles—who teams up with an old friend to solve a complex case of theft and murder in a South Texas ranching community…

It’s Thanksgiving in Pecan Springs, and China is planning to visit her mother, Leatha, and her mother’s husband, Sam, who are enthusiastically embarking on a new enterprise—turning their former game ranch into a vacation retreat for birders. She’s also looking forward to catching up with her friend, game warden Mackenzie “Mack” Chambers, who was recently transferred to the area. But Leatha calls with bad news: Sam has had a heart attack.

How will Leatha manage if Sam can’t carry his share? She does have a helper, Sue Ellen Krause. But China discovers that Sue Ellen, who is in the process of leaving her marriage to the assistant foreman at a large trophy game ranch, is in some serious trouble. Before Sue Ellen can tell China the full story, her car veers off a deserted road and she is killed.

Meanwhile, when a local veterinarian is shot in what appears to be a burglary at his clinic, Mack Chambers believes his murder could be related to fawns stolen from a nearby ranch. As Mack follows the trail, China begins to wonder if Sue Ellen’s death may not have been an accident, and if there’s a connection to the stolen animals. But their search for the truth may put their own lives in danger…

Jennifer's Review

The 23rd installment of Susan Wittig Albert’s China Bayles Mystery Series is entitled Bittersweet. This time around, China is spending time with her mother, Leatha, as they get ready for Thanksgiving, the eminent opening of Leatha and her husband Sam’s bird sanctuary, and deal with the aftermath of Sam’s recent heart attack. We also meet Mackenzie “Mack” Chambers, a female game warden who recently moved to the area near Leatha’s home, the town called Utopia. While Utopia may seem idyllic on the surface, a series of events unfolds that lead to three untimely deaths. China and Mack team up to catch a killer and find the connection between the murders and the theft of valuable fawns from an area game ranch.

The story is told through the eyes of both China and Mack, in alternating chapters. This is a style that Wittig Albert has chosen a few times before in the series that works very well by giving the reader two distinct but complementary voices and viewpoints. China is a well established character who can still surprise. She is beginning to worry about her mother in ways she never has before, and discovers a deep seated guilt about her relationship with Leatha that she hasn’t really explored in the past. Leatha has been a present but distant part of China’s life for the duration of the series, but shows vulnerability that makes her all the more endearing in this story. The complex relationship between mother and daughter is expertly executed within the mystery.

Although Mack is a new character, her back-story shows that she lived in Pecan Springs, the town where China lives and works, prior to her recent divorce. Mack is struggling to make her place in a male dominated profession, as she also tries to heal from the betrayal that lead to her divorce. There are two men that enter the picture that are romantic prospects for Mack, city transplant Derek, who is handsome and polished, and sheriff deputy, Ethan, who is hunky and earthy. Other key characters are Sue Ellen, whom Leatha has just hired to help her with the work of opening the inn and nature preserve, and Doc Masters, the crusty but good-hearted local veterinarian. We also see a few familiar faces in Amy, who plays a pivotal role in solving the murders, and is the animal activist daughter of China’s best friend and business partner, Ruby Wilcox, and Caitie, China’s adopted daughter/niece, who is just as precocious and adorable as ever. Ruby does make a brief appearance, as do China’s husband and step-son, but the action of the story takes place away from Pecan Springs, so their involvement is smaller than usual.

Wittig Albert’s writing is always enjoyable and she manages to keep this long running series fresh by interspersing relevant social or political topics into the plot, along with adding new and interesting characters. She has created and enchanting world, that is inhabited by diverse people and complex interpersonal relationships. Her characters are three dimensional and their interactions with one another are authentic and relatable. As is generally the case in a China Bayles Mystery, the murders are not always the main focus of the book, but the mystery is well drawn and plausible, having a satisfying ending after a couple of twists, as in all the books in the series. The real charm, though, lies with the people we get to meet in the course of the mystery. Mack is someone I would love to see more of in China’s world. She has a vibrant personality and the book leaves a few loose ends in her story that just beg to be explored, either in subsequent China Bayles books, or even in her own spinoff series. I would love to learn more about her, the town of Utopia, and its inhabitants.

Review: The Darling Dahlias and the Texas Star by Susan Wittig Albert

The Darling Dahlias and the Texas Star
Author:  Susan Wittig Albert
Series:   The Darling Dahlias 4
Publisher:  Berkley, September 2, 2014
Format: Mass Market Paperback and eBook, 320 pages
List Price: $7.99 (print)
ISBN:  9780425260593 (print)
Review Copy:  Provided by the Publisher

Review: The Darling Dahlias and the Texas Star by Susan Wittig Albert
National bestselling author Susan Wittig Albert returns to the small town of Darling, Alabama, in the 1930s—where the ladies of the Darling Dahlias garden club are anything but shrinking violets when it comes to rooting out criminals…

The Texas Star herself—Miss Lily Dare, the “fastest woman in the world”—is bringing her Dare Devils Flying Circus to Darling. Unfortunately, she’s also bringing a whole lot of trouble. As the Dahlias prepare for the annual Watermelon Festival—where they will present the famous female aviatrix with her own Texas Star hibiscus—rumors are flying.

Dahlias president Liz Lacy learns that Miss Dare has been threatened and her plane sabotaged. Apparently the bold and beautiful barnstormer has made plenty of enemies. And is it possible she may be involved with the husband of one of Darling’s local ladies?

As the Texas Star barnstorms into town, Liz and Verna Tidwell offer to help bring down a saboteur who may be propelled by revenge. Before it’s all over, there will be plenty of black eyes and dark secrets revealed…


Jennifer's Review

The Darling Dahlias and the Texas Star is the fourth installment of Susan Wittig Albert’s series set in 1930’s Alabama. This installment continues to follow the “Dahlias”, an eclectic group of ladies from Darling, Alabama who run the local garden club. The girls, headed by club president Liz Lacy, find themselves in the midst of a mystery surrounding larger-than-life Miss Lily Dare, a female airplane daredevil in town for the highly anticipated annual Watermelon Festival, which the Dahlias are running this year.

In every Dahlias novel, the story revolves around not just one or two members of the garden club, but many of them simultaneously. Liz and Verna are, as usual, the central characters. Liz has developed wonderfully over the course of the novels. She is kind and independent with a wild imagination that often leads her down the wrong track when she is trying to puzzle out a mystery. Verna is as practical and dry as ever, but still lovable in all her competency. This installment has lots of little sub plots that run concurrently with the central mystery and that bring the story to life with heart and soul. I love that the story of Myra May, who runs the local diner and telephone exchange with her roommate Violet, takes a more prominent role in this book. I’ve been longing to learn more of her back-story for a while now and was very satisfied with what was revealed. All of the other inhabitants of Darling that I’ve come to love are also given time in Texas Star, including Mildred Kilgore, whose marriage takes center stage in this book. Fannie Champaign, who is fairly new to Darling and is still rather mysterious, adds a dash of romance to the story as we look into her relationship with another newer character, newspaper owner, Charlie Dickens.

I have been a huge fan of Susan Wittig Albert for a number of years now and have absolutely loved everything I have ever read of hers, including this novel. Wittig Albert crafts wonderful mysteries that are heavy on the interpersonal relationships of her characters. This fact is important when reading her various series. I would highly recommend they be read in order so the reader can appreciate how the characters and relationships have evolved over the course of the series. The author always incorporates amazing local charm into her books, whether she is writing about a fictional herb shop in Texas, the setting of her long running China Bayles series, or a small southern town during the Great Depression, as in the Dahlias series. She gives her settings such liveliness that they are almost another character in and of themselves. In Texas Star, the period details are superb, which is consistent with the first three books in the series. Wittig Albert is a seasoned cozy mystery veteran who never ceases to deliver intriguing mysteries and lovable characters that seem to grow organically and true to life. I am eagerly awaiting the next Dahlia installment, The Darling Dahlias and the Silver Dollar Bush, which is sure to be another gem.

Guest Blog by Susan Wittig Albert and Review and Giveaway of Blood OrangeReview: Bittersweet by Susan Wittig AlbertGuest Blog by Susan Wittig Albert, Review and Giveaway of Death Come Quickly - April 10, 2015Review: The Darling Dahlias and the Texas Star by Susan Wittig Albert

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