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on May 12, 2010
I've enjoyed Earlene Fowler's books for years and this is no exception. Thanks for bringing Benni back! My favorites in this series are Fool's Puzzle, Irish Chain, and Steps to the Altar but I think they are all great books and she has allowed her characters to mature and change throughout. I first started reading the series because of the quilting tie-in but they are really more about friendship, family and love.
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on May 7, 2010
Benni Harper Ortiz is the curator of the Sinclair Folk Art Museum and Artist's Co-op. She has every intention of enjoying the San Celina Mid-State Fair in Paso Robles. The Ebony Sisters Quilt Guild, a spin off of the San Celina Quilt Guild, supports an exhibit of African-American quilts. The headliner is a copy of the renowned Harriet Powers' classic story quilt that took one year to replicate.

Benni's plans to enjoy the fair are crushed when she learns the Powers' duplication was stolen. She also finds out that the first black manager of the fair Levi Clark has been receiving hate mail. Trouble comes in threes when Benni finds a corpse in the Piebald Family Farm Exhibit. The victim is white male Calvin Jones, who was dating Les' daughter and at one time was involved with supremacist skinheads. Benni and her Aunt Garnet investigate only to end up in danger from someone who kills without remorse.

It has been a few years since Benni's last inquiry (see Tumbling Blocks), but fans of the series will appreciate her return and that of other friends as the State Fair proves an exciting venture. Putting aside the amateur sleuth too often finding a corpse (see Delectable Mountains) and need to investigate, readers will enjoy the often amusing inquiry by niece and aunt while the heroine's grandmother has a tendency to cool the heat between Benni and her spouse Gabe. Long time fans will welcome Benni back into the fold with this enjoyable whodunit.

Harriet Klausner
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on May 11, 2010
Earlene Fowler's Benni Harper books are one of my all time favorites. It was great to read about Benni and feel like part of her family again. This is one of the only authors that I like to buy the book and then the audio CD also. The audio's for this series are great and Johanna Parker sounds exactly like what I would expect Benni to sound like. I am looking forward to hearing the audio version of this book also and can't wait for the next book in the series.
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on April 17, 2016
All of the Bennie Harper quilting books are wonderful, but this one was deeper and even better than others. I loved it from the first page. Do not miss this wonderful mystery and this wonderful couple. Gage and Bennie are wonderful but real. The story is so current and well thought out.
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on September 24, 2014
I LOVE Benni Harper! Another great adventure with her husband, Gabe, and her cousin and best friend, grandmother, step-grandfather and her dad. I love the museum that she is director of, too! If you haven't read any of the Benni Harper books before start with the first one to get her background. You'll end up reading the entire series!
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First Line: My day didn't start with a deep-fried Twinkie, although the thought crossed my mind.

It's time for the San Celina County Mid-State Fair, and folk art museum curator Benni Harper is busier than a one-armed paperhanger with the hives. What she doesn't need is her grandmother, Dove, being all riled up at having her sister Garnet visiting the ranch. You see, it's well known in the family that those two sisters, Garnet and Dove, "get along like two bobcats trapped in a burning outhouse."

Set in 1997, racial tensions are running a bit high due to the fair's first black general manager, Levi Clark; Levi's half-white daughter, Jazz; and a long line of Jazz's various suitors. When the replica of the famous Harriet Powers quilt disappears from the museum's exhibit at the fair and is later found wrapped around the body of a dead fairgoer in another exhibit, Benni investigates-- with the help of her great-aunt Garnet (who seems very well-versed in cop shows and mystery novels).

Benni and I have come a long way. I almost didn't continue reading the series past the second book because Benni's second husband, police chief Gabe Ortiz, was such a stiff-necked macho man. I persevered, however, and I'm glad I did. Fowler's characters aren't one-dimensional; they evolve through time.

The characters and the mysteries aren't the only reasons to read the books in this series. Fowler knows how to mix those two ingredients as well as humor, quilting, folklore (like the history of black cloth dolls in this book), and a strong Christian faith into a very entertaining journey with feisty Benni Harper.

If you're new to this series, it's safe to read State Fair without having read any of the others first. Fowler fills in enough details to keep you headed in the right direction.

For any of you who may worry a bit about my mentioning "strong Christian faith", these books are the furthest thing from being preachy, and the characters' religious beliefs are not force fed to the reader. More than anything, the characters' faith is shown as doing the right thing and treating others with respect. On the other side of the coin, if you're in the mood for a mystery series with faith and morals, I would suggest you sit down with Benni Harper and her family.
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on June 3, 2011
I always enjoy the books in the Benni Harper series. This one not so much as some of the previous in the series. Benni is up to her ears in trouble, as usual. The state fair is in town and so is Benni's Great Aunt Garnet. Since Aunt Garnet and her sister, Grandma Dove, are at each other's throats (arguing like the sisters that they are), Benni gets recruited to entertain her great aunt. Of course, at the state fair, they find a dead body (Benni has a knack) ... and Garnet and Benni get wrapped up in trying to solve the mystery.

I like the mellower Gabe and the continued interaction between Hud and Benni - but Aunt Garnet was a little over the top to be realistic.
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on June 7, 2013
It was fun to visit the old county fair. It was hard to believe how much it mirrored my young years experiences. That in itself made it delightful for me. THe mystery was still very good and the many new characters were brought in with great finesse. Thank you yet again for a wonderful read. DKW
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VINE VOICEon November 10, 2012
It's time for the San Celina Mid-State Fair again and as usual, Benni Harper Ortiz is very involved. Of course, Grandmother Dove is on hand to give Benni advice whether she wants it or not! This year Dove's sister, Aunt Garnet shows up too, but she gives Dove a lot of grief and Benni tries really hard to understand what is going on with the two elderly sisters!

One of the big attractions at the Fair is a quilt exhibit of African American art quilts and dolls. The items are really popular and Benni hopes that the exhibit is a big success. Many of the old characters from previous books are in this story and a few new ones too!

When the murder of a young man takes place, Bennie does her best to find out why he was killed.

The author, Earlene Fowler does not disappoint.
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VINE VOICEon June 7, 2011
It's nice to see Benni Harper and hubby Gabe Ortiz "back on the job," as it were, after a few years' absence. This time Benni is helping out at the annual Mid-State Fair and enjoying a week of "bad for you" foods. A feature at this year's fair is an exhibit of reproductions of African-American quilts. Then the most complicated of the quilts disappears--and reappears wrapped around the dead body of a young white man who was dating a biracial girl who is the daughter of the fair's first African-American general manager. Could the death be racially motivated?

Since the quilting club and the manager are all Benni's friends, of course she can't help getting involved. But who might be responsible? Is the skinhead group in their midst too obvious? And why was the body left in the family exhibit of a loudmouth car dealer?

The mystery shares several stages with other subplots, most prominently Benni's realization that racism still exists in San Celina. There's also a lively subplot with Benni's visiting great Aunt Garnet, who displays a surprising aspect of her personality and which lends a great deal of humor to the first half of the novel. I found this portion of the story the most enjoyable. Pleasing on several levels for fans of Benni, Gabe, Grandma Dove, and other returning characters.
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