MOOving and Grooving

I drive a lot. And when I drive, my mind often does a deep dive into the oddities of our world that catch my attention. Most recently, my wandering mind wondered about…


Cows are beautiful and produce the milk that gives us so much and, yes, they taste good. But why do they exist? They are lumbering creatures that don’t seem to have the speed or dexterity other herbivores are gifted with to outwit or out maneuver predators. So how have they won out in the survival of the fittest?

A 2012 article from University College London concluded that modern cattle are descendants from a small herd of wild oxen, captured and domesticated. The wild ancestors, called aurochs, truly were wild. They were common across Europe and Asia but did not have the calm demeanors we now associate with cows. They were much larger, too. Apparently, cattle farming was never for the feint of heart.

Interesting as that is (and the article is more interesting. Take the time to read it.) My question was more about how the cow evolved structurally and managed to survive. Maybe the answer to the second part is buried in the 2012 article. Once we bred the wild out of the cows, we humans protected them from all predators but ourselves.

Structurally, the back end bothers me. All of that weight being pulled down by gravity, pushing those knees forward. It doesn’t seem like a good design. Yet, the numbers in a 2011 article from The Beef Site pointed in a different direction. Data analysis of over 1.8 million animals that found only about 13% of the animals were treated for health issues and only 16% of those were for lameness. (For math haters, that is 0.16 x 0.13 = 0.02 or 2% of the original group) Of that 2% that were lame, 70% had foot issues. Issues in joint were most commonly associated with the front legs. Huh.

Well, I’m sure that’s farther than you ever wanted to go into cow family and frames. But now, you don’t have to wonder and neither do I.

Image Credit: Florida Center for Instructional Technology. S. G. Goodrich, The Animal Kingdom Illustrated (New York: A. J. Johnson & Co., 1885) 

Dead in the Alley: Chapter 1 and Review

This is a second-time around, romantic suspense story. Bay Bishop has moved back home to small-town Michigan with her husband Derrick to start an upscale restaurant. It is a success in so many ways. But then Derrick is killed in a hit-and-run right outside the restaurant’s back door. The investigation takes an abrupt turn when a connection to drug trafficking is found. Enter Greg Musgrove, narcotics detective and the high school boyfriend who ghosted on her nearly 20 years ago.

Bottom line: Dead in an Alley is for you if you like second chance, redemption romances, culinary morsels, and rich storylines that immerse you in the lives of the main characters.

Strengths of the story. The novel weaves together storylines: investigation into Derrick’s death; Bay’s grief over the loss of her husband and coming to grips with the sham that was her life; Greg juggling work, a new business venture, and the realization he stilled loved Bay; Bay’s conflicted reaction to being in close quarters with Greg again; and Bay’s issues with her parents and siblings. The lines are influenced by each other, which makes for a compelling, over arching story. The main characters, Bay and Greg, are likable and the main supporting characters add texture. Ms. Michalove culinary knowledge shines through and if she cooks as well as she describes in here, I want to go to her house.

Where the story fell short of ideal: The logic, my #1 test, was reasonable but not strong. I walked away with questions about why characters would do certain things – primarily the culprit and side characters, not Bay and Greg. With so many storylines, it isn’t surprising there are a lot of characters and keeping them all straight was a challenge I failed at a few times.

I haven’t decided where I fall on the start of the romance itself. Being romantic suspense, it is obvious where it is going. But Bay loves her husband. She is truly devastated when he is killed. It is hard for me to buy the quick turn to the one that got away. Yet, this is romantic suspense and that spark has to happen quickly, it’s just part of the game. Likely this is one place where readers will fall into different camps: didn’t notice; noticed but no problem with it; noticed and didn’t love it but got over it; and noticed and didn’t get over it. I enjoyed the book and am glad I finished it.   

Listen to the first chapter on my Toe Tag page and everywhere you get your podcasts. Then download Dead in the Alley by Sharon Michalove for the rest of the story. DEAD IN AN ALLEY was released August 10, 2022 from Coffee and Éclair Books and is available from Amazon and other book retailers. From July 18-August 12, 2022 Dead in an Alley is on tour with Partners in Crime. Check out the tour link for more content and information

Toe Tag: See You Next Tuesday

Mysteries to Die For’s newest Toe Tag is SEE YOU NEXT TUESDAY by Ken Harris. Listen to the first chapter on my website and everywhere you get your podcasts.

Follow the Link to Listen on my Website

From July 11-August 5, See You Next Tuesday is on tour with Partners in Crime. Check out the tour link for more content and information

TG Wolff Review

This is a Private Investigator and grift story. The dynamic team of Steve Rochfish and Jawnie McGee tackle their first case as full partners. A line from later in the book gives the perfect synopsis. It’s a simple cheating husband case turned into a search and rescue, cult exfiltration and a wild ride that comes back to two old guys getting ripped off.

Rating See You Next Tuesday on a 5-point scale against the “perfect PI story”, I give this 5.00.

Strengths of the story. By now, you all know I’m hell on logic and Harris lives up to the bar. The actions of all the characters made sense for who they were. Rockfish and McGee drive the story, interfering with the bad guys plans, and the bad guys react, changing plans in a way that both creates unexpected twists and is totally reasonable given the change in their circumstances. Harris thoroughly developed his story, giving his detective material to work with. He worked them into a corner a time or two and let them fight their way out.

I liked both lead characters. Rockfish is older and has the mindset and habits that reflect those of us born in the 60s, 70s, and 80s. Jawnie is his counterbalance, rooted in modern times in terms of technology, mindset, and vernacular. While either character could have been stereotypical, neither are and what really makes them work is the mutual respect and affection they have for each other.

Where the story fell short of the ideal. The first half of the story alternates between Rockfish’s and Jawnie’s points of view. As the story progresses, we have scenes written from the POV for their new Confidential Informant Lynn and, later, the bad guys. Information the reader gains here could not come from Rockfish or Jawnie. Often, I am not a fan of changing the storytelling style mid-book, but Harris did them very well. These changes in POV were the reason the logic and the story were able to stand up as strongly as they did. There were a few stylistic elements that were not my favorite but those were certainly personal preferences. Some minor editing misses were found, but not enough to detract from the story.

Bottom line: See You Next Tuesday is for you if you like PI’s who like to mix it up with the bad guys and refuse to quit—even after the cops tell them too.

Larry the Bag Man Tries to Set Things Right: A Review

It is Spencer Fleury’s turn in Colin Conway’s Back Road Bobby and His Friends 509 crim anthology. Handbrake Hardy Fry may be driving into the sunset, but he did a lot of damage on his way out. Lawrence Clyde Fretwell, aka Larry the Bag Man, was part of the collateral damage. His father had worked with Handbrake and Larry still holds the legendary driver responsible for his father’s death. He’s going to set this right before the old man is gone…in a school bus.

I’m giving this one a solid four stars. This unpredictable story has a lot to offer. Larry isn’t exactly lovable but you feel for the guy. First, he’s driver whose ankle is pinned together so he can drive a school bus but not a getaway car. Second, the kids he drives are jerks! Larry is tenacious, both in his resolute belief that Handbrake is responsible for his father’s absence from his childhood and in his determination to not make it easy for the cops. Run, Larry! Run!

Pick up Back Road Bobby and His Friends from Amazon and your other favorite book stores

Meat-Wagon Mike’s Change of Heart: A Review

Meat-Wagon Mike’s Change of Heart is Greg Levin’s contribution to Colin Conway’s Back Road Bobby and His Friends, a 509 Crime Anthology. Mike is a paramedic with a stealing habit. You know from the beginning that something is going to go wrong. Then its like, well, that wasn’t so bad. Neither was that. And then, well, yeah, there ya go.

This is another story where if you cheer for the lead character, you wonder what it says about you. Mike is a paramedic, maybe a good one, maybe not so good. What he is good at is lightening the load of the recently deceased by taking their watches, jewelry, cash, etc. Years ago, he made a mistake and stole from an injured (but not dead) Handbrake Hardy Frye. Now, like everyone else in the 509, he’s trying to get to Handbrake.

Mike makes no apologies for who he is, which kinda makes him likable. And, like so many of us, when he tries to do the right thing, everything goes to hell. 5-stars for this lightning paced story.

Wolf Bog: Chapter 1 and Review

Wolf Bog by Leslie Wheeler is the newest bonus episode on Mysteries to Die For. Listen to the first chapter and my review everywhere you get your podcast or from my website.

TG Wolff Review

This book is an amateur sleuth story where Katheryn Stinson, a curator of prints and photographs for a small library, is drawn into the mystery of the surfacing body of a local man who went missing forty years prior. Rating Wolf Bog on a 5-point scale against the “perfect amateur sleuth”, I give this 3.75. Bottom line: Wolf Bog is for you if you prefer small town mysteries with likeable characters, deliberate pacing and/or the Berkshire setting.

Giddy Up Done Gone: A Review

Driver Giddy Up Derrick is trying to live up to the expectations her grandfather set. The only problem is her uncles won’t let her out from behind the reception desk. When the legendary Handbrake Hardy Frye is rumored to be on his deathbed, Giddy Up decides to make the trip to pay respects. Two eighteen year old girls, 1,800 miles, and enough ramen for a week. What could possibly go wrong?

The next story in Colin Conway’s Back Road Bobby and His Friends belongs to me. I thought about skipping this one. You know, recusing myself, and then decided nahh.

This story is has a different tone than the preceding episodes. Giddy Up and her friends Angel and Marcella deal with some grown up problems. Giddy Up isn’t given the chance to live up to her potential simply because she was born female. Angel is a domestic violence victim. First by her step-father, then by her boyfriend. Marcella is an illegal immigrant kidnapped from her family and forced into the sex trade. Real and heavy stuff. Giddy Up and Angel live dangerously by deciding to make the trek to Spokane. Along the way, they save Marcella from the men holding her.

Is this story for you? If you like darker stories, then probably not. It wouldn’t surprise me if you found Giddy Up and her friends silly. If you like dark stories with the potential of a happy ending, then yes, I think you’d enjoy the antics of three girls ready to take on the world.

Architect of Courage: A Review

Architect of Courage by Victoria Weisfeld was a featured Toe Tag on our podcast Mysteries to Die For. Click here to listen to the first chapter and the review.

In the book, the genre was listed as murder mystery. If you pick up this book expecting a murder mystery, you will be disappointed. This book is not a whodunnit, where the amateur sleuth Archer Landis is solving the mystery of his lover’s murder.

This book is a thriller, where the unwilling hero, Archer Landis, is being accosted personally and professionally, forcing him to chase the rabbit down its hole.

Rating Architect of Courage on a 5-point scale against the “perfect thriller”, I give this 4.25.

Strengths of the story. The pacing is fast without being aggressive or too fast to follow and has the plot twists that are the hallmark of a good thriller. Our hero is in constant mortal danger, and like so many thriller heroes, has no idea why. The setting moves between NYC, a beach house, and the south of Spain and draws in international figures from Spain, Israel, and Morocco. Having the hero be an industry leading architect sets this book apart, bringing in a world seldom explored in thrillers. This book is well written in terms of the noun-verb-noun writing and the editing. There is a lot to like.

Where the story fell short of the ideal. While the book is well written, the opening chapters were rough. The adjectives were too flowery, the cheating husband too falling on his own sword. There are also several convenient coincidences and suggestions by minor characters that felt less than organic, intentionally set to advance to the next chapter. This does clean up by about the fifth chapter, when the story really takes off.

Thriller endings are often difficult. Authors generally have created such a complex weave of plots (those twists and turns readers love) that to unravel each one in a logical and satisfying manner is a very complicated task. When you get to the end and look back over the entirety of the story, do the actions of all the players (not just the hero) hold up? Weisfeld did better than most, but she wasn’t perfect. I am not going to go into spoiler detail. These plot resolution points prevented me from scoring the book higher, but I doubt it is something that will bother the vast majority of thriller lovers.

Bottom line: Architect of Courage is for you if you are into thrillers, faster paced stories, and international flavors.

From June 20 through July 15,2022 Architect of Courage is on tour with Partners in Crime. Check out the tour link for more content and information

Wobble Wheel Wooley’s End of the Road: A Review

In Trey Barker’s contribution to Colin Conway’s Back Road Bobby and His Friends, Jesse is ready to leave the world behind and live off the grid. But to do that, he needs some cash. A carefully placed question or two connects him with Wobble Wheel Wooley, a man on a quest for a pile of money hidden by Handbrake Hardy.

This call-and-answer style story has two men whose paths become crossed. Jesse isn’t fussy about where his next pay day comes from, just that it comes. Wobble Wheel is on a Coronado quest for the mother of all payouts. Unpredictable, Wobble Wheel drives the story, dragging Jesse along for the right. A clean, straight-forward story, I give this 4 stars.

Dead Dead Girls: A Review

There is a lot to love in Nekesa Afia’s debut mystery Dead Dead Girls. This book is an amateur sleuth-style mystery. Our sleuth is 26-year old Louise Lovey Lloyd. A Black woman in 1920s Harlem, she works as a waitress in a café over a kinda sleezy speakeasy by day and dances her feet off in the best club in the neighborhood at night. On her way home from a late night of music and drinking, Louise and her companion Rosa Maria discover the body of a teen in the cafe’s doorway. Louise feels for the girl who reminds her of her younger self, of her younger sisters. With a spine of steel, Louise works with the New York police to go into the one place they can’t, the homes and businesses of Black New York.

Rating Dead Dead Girls on a 5-point scale against the perfect mystery, I give this 3.5 stars.

Strengths of the story. The lead character is vividly imagined and brought out on the page. You can the pride and frustration that would come with being friends with the smart and courageous woman. The setting is equally well drawn out, letting us feel the pulse of the band as Louise dances the Charleston. I simply love the language. I do not know how much research Ms. Afia did, but it was worth it. The slang is a key part of being transported to this neighborhood, at this point in time. The story is well told in the noun-verb-noun sense and is well edited, as you would expect with Berkley Prime Crime.

Where the story fell short of ideal. Ms. Afia weaves a complicated plot for her debut novel and with that intricacy comes the opportunity to make leaps in logic and leave string hanging. It is the type of story that at the end you think ‘ok, fine. That’s good.’ And then the questions start popping up. What about this and how was that managed. Beside the mystery itself, this happens with the apparent constant threat Louise is under. For readers who tend not to dissect the logic of a story, I am confident you will be delighted with this one.

Bottomline: Dead Dead Girls is for you if you like dynamic amateur sleuths and the under explored time of 1920s Harlem.