Here you’ll find cozies and more. Enjoy!
HOW TO SEX YOUR SNAKE by Melissa Banczak
Fiction, Cozy Mystery
Blurb: A pool of blood…
A missing body…
A brother accused of murder…
June Nash has the lousiest luck. As personal assistant to her twin, international tv star and reptile expert, Dewey Nash, all June wants is a little break from the endless mail, the crazy fans and the remote locations. She just never seems to get one. Finally home after an extended shoot, June desperately needs to veg in a hot tub and soak the rainforest out of her pores. But the blood, the missing body and her brother’s possible incarceration keep getting in her way. That and the Mexican gang looking to collect a debt, her brother’s hardcore fans sniffing around for a nibble, and her own brilliance at being in the wrong place at the right time. When she accidentally stumbles onto the truth, the reluctant adventurer is faced with a split-second decision. Race into danger and follow the lead or stay safe and dial 911. The wrong choice sends her on a mad dash to recover the evidence and get it safely back to the sheriff before her brother’s arrest goes public and her career…and his freedom…are history.
Thoughts: I love June Nash! She is so completely inept and disaster-prone. Everything she does turns out to be the wrong thing, and yet, she survives. The title of the book drew me in. I mean it’s rather strange and off-beat for a cozy mystery title. But it was the character of June and the writing that kept me reading. June works as a personal assistant to her famous twin brother Dewey so when he gets arrested for the murder of his best friend Morgan, what can she do but help? And that’s when it starts getting real. And real funny. Everything she does just gets her deeper into trouble as she ends up facing drug runners, human trafficers, smugglers…but all with hilarious outcomes. And she is always hungry! Always! There are multiple times when her stomach rules against her better judgement (not she has much of that to begin with). She is spacey, misses a lot because she doesn’t listen, and makes more mistakes in one weekend than most people make in a lifetime. The story was quirky, funny, intriguing and a nice uplift to the happenings in the real world. Oh, and yeah, the title comes from the fact that June’s brother is a herpetologist (snake guy).
What I liked: June! She is the best (un)heroine I’ve read in a while. The writing was quick and humorous and it was just a fun book to read.
What I didn’t like: Though I gave this five sparklers, I will note that there were several editorial issues (misspellings/misuse – like “adds” for “ads”) and other minor mistakes that need to be addressed. But the book was so much fun that I’ll let it slide—this time.
Recommendation: If you’re looking for a quirky, fun cozy with a decent outcome and a totally inept heroine, pick this one up. I’ll definitely be looking for more from this author.
Disclaimer: I received this book in hopes of an honest review. All opinions are my own and are not influenced by anyone.
AN EXTRAVAGANT DEATH by Charles Finch
Fiction, Historical mystery, Pub date: February 2021
Blurb: London, 1878. With faith in Scotland Yard shattered after a damning corruption investigation, Charles Lenox’s detective agency is rapidly expanding. The gentleman sleuth has all the work he can handle, two children, and an intriguing new murder case. But when a letter arrives with an unexpected invitation, he’s unable to resist the call of an old, unfulfilled yearning: to travel to America. Arriving in New York, he begins to receive introductions into both its old Knickerbocker society and its new robber baron splendor. Then, a shock: the suicide of the season’s most beautiful debutante, who has thrown herself from a cliff. Or was it a suicide? Her closest friend doesn’t think so, and Lenox, sacrificing his plans, travels to the family’s magnificent Newport mansion in the guise of an idle English gentleman. What ensues is a fiendsh game of cat and mouse. Witty, complex, and tender, An Extravagant Death is Charles Finch’s triumphant return to the main storyline of his beloved Charles Lenox series–a devilish mystery, a social drama, and an unforgettable first trip for an Englishman coming to America.
Thoughts: This is a story that takes place mostly in New England (America) during the Golden Age – between the end of the Civil War and the turn of the century. Lenox is a London detective who has been asked (commanded) by British PM Disraeli to get out of London until the results of his last case are over. His last case being one where he discovered and reported corruption at the highest levels of Scotland Yard. Although reluctant to leave his wife and two daughters, Lady Jane convinces him that it is best for everyone if he does. In America, he is asked to look into a murder that occurred in the highest levels of Newport society. While there, he is shocked at the absolute extravagance of the families—“cottages” that are nothing less than mansions; people who think nothing of spending millions on parties, and more. It’s almost more than his modest British sensibilities can handle. But he plows ahead and follows the clues, no matter who they might lead to. Lenox is a beautifully done character. You feel his emotions as he misses his family and deals with society. And the history in the book is well-researched and presented.
What I liked: This is the first book I read in this series but it is very well written and easy to read. You learn a lot of little things through Lenox and he discovers America. Things like how we got the words “shrapnel” (Lt. Henry Shrapnel invented an artillery shell that fragmented in 1803) and “grapevine” (the Grapevine Tavern in N.Y. was a place where Union officers and Confederate spies mingled during the Civil War. Thus, the source of news, information, gossip, and rumors was through the Grapevine). These little factoids added to the overall flavor of the story. I also loved Lenox’s wife, Lady Jane. How he married into society is a bit of a mystery in itself, but it works well for them—and the reader, especially when she manages to get him a “suitable” suit for the Astor party.
What I didn’t like: Actually, I thought at times, the story was a bit slow. There is a lot of detail—almost too much—before we even get to the “mystery” of the story. You’re almost a third of the way through before we get there. Also…the author made a big deal of the “Wallace murder” near where Lenox lives in London and he takes the files with him to America to work on and…nothing. It is not solved. Nothing about it is even mentioned after the Newport murder. I assume this will be solved in a later book, but it was disappointing to be teased by this case and then it is dropped. Not fair.
Recommendation: If you’ve read the other books in the series, definitely pick this one up. Though a bit slow for me, it is nevertheless well-written and has a satisfying conclusion to the murder. If you haven’t read any, though you can enjoy this one, I believe starting with the first will give you more of a basis with which to understand Lenox and his stories.
Disclaimer: Thanks to Netgalley and Minotaur Books for providing this book in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own and are not influenced by anyone.
WINNER CAKE ALL by Denise Swanson
Fiction, cozy mystery
Blurb: Once again, it looks like Dani Sloan will get a slice of the action…
In the small town of Normalton, IL, there aren’t a lot of opportunities for small business owner Dani Sloan to cater big-ticket events. But that’s about to change—a client named Yvette Joubert is marrying Franklin Whittaker, the richest guy around, and they want Dani to cater their engagement party! The swanky event is the perfect opportunity to put Dani on the map for wealthier clients. But when a storm hits the party after guests arrive, it becomes clear that more than the dinner is ruined: Yvette is found dead beneath the marquee. Is her death a tragic accident, or a perfectly orchestrated murder? Then the case gets even juicier—it turns out that Yvette’s ex-husband is Spencer Drake, Dani’s almost-boyfriend, and the police start circling. Now Dani must follow an unending list of clues to save her business, her better half, and catch a criminal. Let’s just hope they get their just desserts!
Thoughts: I haven’t read this author before but will be looking for more of her books. I had a little trouble getting into the story…it was a little slow for me and the multiple points of view (instead of just the main character) was a little different. But once I got into the story, I did enjoy it. All the cozy mystery tropes are there: (relatively) small town, amateur sleuth, lots of friends to help with clue-finding, friend in jeopardy, and more. The clues are there, but the villain isn’t obvious. Also, even though I haven’t read the first two books in the series, it wasn’t hard to follow who was who and the relationships among all the characters. In this book, there are actually a couple of mysteries going on—the main one (who killed Yvette) and a secondary one (who is attacking college students where Spencer works and pinning them to the walls).
What I liked: the characters are well done and easily relatable. Dani was fed up with her corporate life and downsized to run her own catering business—which seems to be doing well. Spencer is a good counter for her with his own background issues. And the girls who live with Dani are fun. They keep the age level from being too one-sided and add another layer to the story. The ending was satisfying, solving the mystery while leaving threads dangling so you know there is more to come.
What I didn’t like: very little. It’s a sweet cozy mystery—though told from two points of view (Dani and Spencer) which makes it a little different than others. It does get a little slow sometimes and usually, with a “food” cozy, there are recipes included which there aren’t here. So some things that make it different than others. But that is not necessarily a bad thing.
Recommendation: If you like cozy mysteries, definitely check this one out as well as others by the author.
Disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher in hopes of an honest review. All opinions are my own and are not influenced by anyone.
CHERRY CHEESECAKE MURDER by Joanne Fluke
Fiction, Cozy Mystery
Publisher Blurb: When Main Street in Lake Eden becomes a movie set, a clever killer rewrites the script and bakery owner Hannah Swenson, while trying to decide which marriage proposal to accept, must sift through a cast of suspects before the film wraps with an even deadlier ending.
Thoughts: This is the eighth book in the Hannah Swensen series and Hannah—a baker/amateur sleuth—investigates when an actor is murdered with a prop gun. The book can be read as a standalone, but you’d understand the character dynamics better if you read the previous ones. Like the other books in the series, this one includes some luscious recipes. In this story a Hollywood movie is being shot in Lake Eden, Minnesota where Hannah lives. The movie staff roll into town and local citizens discover to their delight that they will be involved as advisors and bit players. In addition to the hoopla, Hannah has received two marriage proposals (Mike and Norman), but she’s also enamored of one of the movie staff, Ross.
What I liked: The mystery is nicely done—a sweet cozy that leaves you guessing. It’s entertaining with characters that continue to grow and change—with the exception of Hannah. It’s fun “watching” the characters try their best to be chosen for parts in the movie. And the recipes are yummy too. I especially loved that Moishe the cat got a part.
What I didn’t like: I’ve read all the books in the series, and I really don’t like how Hannah continues to string both Mike and Norman along. Make a choice already. I understand why the author is doing this, but it makes me not like Hannah. She’s being selfish in not choosing one and letting the other get on with his life. If I were them, I’d dump her. Plus, the murder doesn’t happen until page 200 – a long way to read to get to the heart of the book. This is a murder mystery after all. Which means the murder should be central to the story but it’s almost an afterthought. And then there’s the movie. Would a director really use so many townspeople in key roles in the movie? Walk-on extras maybe, but not generally. He’d have to pay them standard fees. Finally, this book seemed to drag more than the others did. I didn’t dislike it, but it didn’t wow me either.
Recommendation: If you’re a fan of this series, pick this one up to see what’s next. If you haven’t read others in the series, don’t start with this one. The earlier ones are better.
A SWEET CHUNK OF MADNESS by Deany Ray
Fiction, Cozy Mystery
Blurb: Becky’s pastry shop, the Blue Bay Café, is popular among the natives of Ouna Bay, as well as among the tourists passing by. But Becky’s life is turned upside down when someone puts their eye on her beloved Blue Bay Café. Who would want her to give up her café? And most importantly, why? Could the new, handsome man in Becky’s life have anything to do with it? As things heat up and sinister events become the norm, Becky decides to take matters in her own hands. Join Becky and her best friend, Rosalie, as they try to get to the bottom of this mystery and stop the madness.
Thoughts: This was a cute, short read, but… there were so many technical errors with it – from spelling, word misuse, grammar… and more. It really detracted from the entire story for me. Maybe someone who’s not quite so picky with good writing won’t care, but I do. Unfortunately for this writer.
What I liked: The main character isn’t bad. Becky runs a small café in a small town. She has a best friend, Rosalie, who’s always losing things but is there for Becky. Houston is a nice romantic interest and conflict arises from who he works for (his uncle is trying to buy Becky out). The ending is satisfying and ties things up nicely.
What I didn’t like: a lot. Mostly the editing. It needed serious going over by a professional editor. And if the author paid one – get your money back. Also, questions that occurred to me while reading: Becky doesn’t notify the cops about what’s going on because she doesn’t want to run into her ex, Roger. So… aren’t there any other cops in this town? And her avoidance at all costs seems a bit too cowardly to me. Also, why doesn’t Maia (or is it Maria? They seemed to be the same person) ask what’s going on and then report it? Especially after the paint thinner incident. Why can’t “she/her” be identified earlier? It’s just irritating to wait until the last pages for that reveal. Especially since it has nothing to do with the problem. Plus… there’s a phone booth? How old is this story? I haven’t seen one of those in years. There were some other things, but I’ll stop there.
Recommendation: Although this is a cute story, I cannot recommend it until it’s had a complete redo by both the writer and a professional editor.
DEATH OF AN ARISTOCRAT by Anya Wylde
Fiction, Cozy Historical Mystery
Blurb: The gossip columns can talk of nothing else, and even the Regent is intrigued. The murder of Lord Beazley at Gopshall Manor has caused a sensation, and the fact that two sweet governesses could have done it has further tickled the nations bloodthirsty soul. Lucy Anne Trotter, who stands accused, steals a horse and hurtles off to convince the only man in the country who can save her bacon— the national hero and the most handsome man in England, Lord William Hartell Adair. With him by her side, she sets out to discover the Gopshall family’s secrets and the murderer.In true Anya Wylde style, plenty of madness, kisses and burning breeches make an appearance. It’s a carriage ride not to be missed.
Thoughts: Lucy is at it again. While she is working as a governess at Gopshall Manor, a guest is found murdered, and of course, everyone blames Lucy. Once again, she goes to Lord Adair, who got her the job, for his help in solving the mystery and saving her from the hangman’s noose. The suspects are many as are the vices including blackmail, madness, affairs, drinking, and more. While Lucy is “investigating”, she discovers that the other governess is in love with one of the young men of the house—and he with her. Lucy attempts to discover who the murderer is before Lord Adair, but as usual, he is always one step ahead of her.
What I liked: the humor in the story is fun. This is not your standard historical mystery. There’s a lot going on here in the background and poor Lucy is usually at the center of it all.
What I didn’t like: Unfortunately, this book could use a strong editorial hand. There are point of view shifts all over the place, capitalization issues, and continuity issues. In one scene, the lady of the house starts off with a green robe. In the next sentence, it’s red. And a paragraph or so later, it’s blue – and she hasn’t moved. Also, Aunt Sedley comes in far too late. If you haven’t read the first book, you won’t know who she is (a ghost) and her showing up so late in the story is a head-scratcher. Suggest the author have her show up when Lucy is hanging upside down with her backside exposed to the world. That would definitely be comical.
Recommendation: Read the first book first so you know what’s going on. If you can overlook the multiple editorial issues, pick this one up. It’s cute. Fun. And has a satisfying ending.
Disclaimer: I received this book free through an author promotion. All opinions are my own and are not influenced by anyone or anything.
VARNISHED WITHOUT A TRACE by Misty Simon
Fiction, Cozy Mystery
Blurb: This Christmas, Tallie Graver would like to take a break from running her cleaning business to be with her boyfriend, Max, and enjoy their first holiday together–alone. Instead, she’s stuck keeping her mother and grandmother from duking it out during the town’s annual Christmas Eve bingo game. As for festive spirit, she’ll have to settle for her mean-spirited Aunt Ronda, whose mouth could use some soap.
The night only gets worse after Tallie discovers Ronda’s body. It seems someone cleaned her clock with a can of varnish. While all the evidence points to Ronda’s husband, Tallie doesn’t believe her beloved Uncle Hoagie could do such a dirty deed. Of course, his sudden disappearance doesn’t help his case. If Tallie hopes to clear his name, she’ll need to dig up some dirt to locate the real killer. Otherwise, someone else could get rubbed out
Thoughts: In this next book in the Tallie Graver series, our intrepid heroine is in the midst of the holidays. She not only has to deal with her grumpy grandmother, but apartment renovations (with the marvelous Max), another murder, and an arsonist. Her mother and grandmother drag her to Christmas Eve bingo—not her first choice of how to spend the evening—and when she wins (much to the anger of the regular players), instead of gathering her prize, she finds a body. But the real surprise is when Police Chief Burton actually asks for her input. And then her uncle Sherman asks her to help find the firebug who’s burning up buildings around town. With the help of Max and her friends, Tallie once again discovers the secrets being hidden. But before we get to the satisfying ending, there are a lot of twists and turns that leave you guessing. One thing about the series is that each one is a stand-alone story. Yes, reading them in order gives you background on the family that would help you get deeper into the story, but you don’t need to have in order to enjoy the stories.
What I liked: I love the family dynamics in the Tallie stories. The books aren’t just about the murder, but about Tallie and her life and relationships. And it all keeps you turning the pages.
What I didn’t like: Nothing. I love the Tallie Graver series!
Recommendation: If you’ve read the other ones in this series, you need to read this one. But if you haven’t, you can still read this one and know what’s going on. I suggest you read them all for a fun, light-hearted mystery with interesting characters and endings that satisfy.
Disclaimer: I received this ARC from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own and are not influenced by anyone or anything.
MURDER AT RUDHALL MANOR by Anya Wylde
Historical Cozy Mystery
Blurb: A murder and a theft have been committed at Rudhall Manor. A box of jewels has vanished and Lord Sedley, a lusty old aristocrat, has been stabbed six times in the chest.
It is all very mysterious, and the Sedley family and the servants have decided that Miss Lucy Anne Trotter, a recently employed governess, is to blame for the unfortunate events. The legendary and wickedly handsome Marquis, Lord William Adair, learns of the matter and decides to uncover the truth. Lucy, however, has little faith in blue blooded creatures—even if they possess dashing good looks— and, accompanied by two naughty pugs and a moody raven, decides to investigate and unmask the killer herself. But the hunt for the killer turns out to be far more complicated than she anticipates—what with snooty servants, warts in odd places, mixed up love affairs, agitated chickens and dreadful disguises ruining her plans.
Soon she begins to wonder if, for once, she is in over her head…
Review: This was a cute historical (old England) cozy mystery with a satisfying ending. There’s the actual murder, theft of jewels, and a flippant ghost who only Lucy can see and hear. But…the writing was almost slapstick at times—too over the top. The character of Lucy actually reminded me of another Lucy—as in “I Love Lucy” and the antics that Lucy would often get into. The imagery was good if also a little over the top. The story is light-hearted though often devolves into the ridiculous (Hey Lucy!).
What I liked: the writing is light and funny though slapstick. Lucy is lovable if a bit impulsive and daft. Though I’m not a huge fan of slapstick comedy, the writing had me smiling and even laughing at times – always a good thing. And the mystery part of the story was not bad with a surprising ending (sort of). And I loved Aunt Sedley (the ghost). She was quite the character as well.
What I didn’t like: Lucy kept telling the good Lord Adair how accomplished she was at a variety of things, but we never see that side of her. All we see are the antics.
Recommendation: If you like over-the-top slapstick humor with your mystery, definitely pick this one up. It’s absurdly fun.
I receive a copy of this book from the author.
THE FINDERS by Jeffrey B. Burton
Publisher blurb: What happens when the hunter becomes the hunted? Jeffrey B. Burton’s The Finders marks the beginning of a fast-paced new mystery series featuring a heroic golden retriever cadaver dog named Vira and her handler, Mason Reid.
Mason “Mace” Reid lives on the outskirts of Chicago and specializes in human remains detection. He trains dogs to hunt for the dead. Reid’s coming off a taxing year—mourning the death of a beloved springer spaniel as well as the dissolution of his marriage. He adopts a rescue dog with a mysterious past—a golden retriever named Vira. And when Reid begins training Vira as a cadaver dog, he comes to realize just how special the newest addition to his family truly is…
Suddenly, Reid and his prize pupil find themselves hurled into a taxing murder case, which will push them to their very limits. Paired with determined Chicago Police Officer Kippy Gimm, Mace must put all his trust in Vira’s abilities to thwart a serial killer who has now set his sights on Mace himself.
Review: This is a hard-core suspense mystery with a lot of tension—and bodies. And one amazing golden retriever. Vira was absolutely the best character in this book. The others are pretty good too, but Vira took my heart—and I’m a cat person! Reid is a dog whisperer who trains dogs for a variety of duties, including finding cadavers. Some of the facts the author added to the story about dogs and their sense of smell are rather interesting and added to the book.
What I liked: Vira. Hands down, she is the main character and so interesting.
What I didn’t like: I received this book thinking it was a light murder mystery. I was very wrong. It’s bloody, gory, intense…with some lighter moments, but is definitely not a light mystery. It is not my kind of book at all… But, that being said, it is well-written with good characters, high suspense, and a satisfying ending. It’s not a bad book – it’s just not *my* kind of book.
Recommendation: This is the first in a series and if you like dogs and intense murder mysteries, you’ll probably enjoy this one. Will I ever read another book in this series? No. But…if you like suspenseful thrillers and a bit of intensity, then pick this one up.
This book was provided to me by the publisher.
DECEPTION BY GASLIGHT by Kate Belli
Publisher blurb: Glittering Gilded-Age New York holds its lavish charms–and a litany of deadly sins–as intrepid reporter Genevieve Stewart uncovers a trail of corruption and murder. As a chill sets in on New York City in the winter of 1888, a jewel thief dubbed the “Robin Hood of the Lower East Side” has been stealing from the city’s wealthiest and giving to the poor. Genevieve Stewart–a young woman whose family is part of Mrs. Astor’s famed 400 but who has forged a life of her own as a reporter–decides to chase the story, but gets more than she bargained for: a murder victim sprawled in a dark alley in the dangerous Five Points neighborhood. A handsome neighborhood tough comes to her rescue–but when she encounters the same man at a glamorous ball a few nights later, she realizes he’s society scion Daniel McCaffrey. Could this be her Robin Hood? When two more murders rock the Knickerbocker world, it becomes apparent that something much more sinister is afoot than a few stolen diamond necklaces. Genevieve is determined to prove that Daniel is Robin Hood–but she’s loath to believe he is a killer as well. From the glittering lights of Fifth Avenue to the sordid back alleys of Five Points, the truth is just one murder away.
New York, 1888: At twenty-six, Genevieve Stewart is a single woman due to a failed engagement and who was born to a wealthy family. As such, she is part of New York society, but is trying to make a name for herself as a journalist. She follows a lead on the notorious “Robin Hood” –a thief who is going after the wealthiest members of society. Her ambition leads her into one of the roughest parts of the city where she meets Daniel—a rich man who grew up in the poorest neighborhood. She thinks he is the thief and trails him doggedly. Unfortunately, her investigation leads her into serious trouble—and an intriguing partnership to find the thief—and the murderer who is framing him. The story has a lot of details as to what life was like in 1888 NYC. From the rich and powerful and their lavish parties, to the working poor, living in the slums.
What I liked: The world building. Though light on some sensory details (what did the slums smell like compared to Genevieve’s uptown neighborhood?), there is enough richness of background to embed you in the story. I liked Genevieve and her family. They are “society” but in an unconventional way. I loved Esmie and how she eventually finds herself. And I liked the scene in Genevieve’s friend’s home when she faces two men, one of whom is Robin Hood, and shows how well she can aim a gun! Loved this scene.
What I didn’t like: I wasn’t especially fond of the fact that the ultimate bad guy didn’t get his, but… from what I saw in the “ending” there is more to come so I assume he’ll get his sometime. And, although the mystery in this book is solved, there were enough loose ends left dangling that you know there will be more adventures for Genevieve.
If you like cozy historical mysteries, I do recommend this book. Though I found it a bit slow at first, by the middle/end, I couldn’t put it down. It will keep you turning the pages, even though it’s not a real heart pounding story. I look forward to more adventures with Genevieve and Daniel.
ONE LAST SPELL by Raven Snow
Paranormal Cozy Mystery Novella
Author blurb: Zelda has sworn never to perform magic again. She’s also sworn never to help solve a murder again — last time she did both, disaster occurred. She’s had it with magic, murder, and men. She’s happy with her life now, secluded on the mountainside in the small cozy town of Castlerock. No one bothers her and that’s the way she likes it. But when her long lost best friend and police detective Jessica turns up on Zelda’s doorstep one day everything changes. Jessica tells her there’s been a murder in town and Zelda is the only one who can help. Last time, things ended in disaster. Zelda’s life and relationships were destroyed. Zelda however can’t say no to her best friend, especially when she hears that the murder victim is someone Zelda knew – a fellow outcast. Now the case is personal in more ways than one. Zelda agrees to help out but only this one last time. Zelda meets handsome but bumbling police recruit Josh, and she gets dragged further and further into the mystery, she might just have to rethink her stance on life. Maybe life back with the mortals might not be so bad after all, but things are not all they seem. Can Zelda solve the case and put her past to rest? Will Josh prove himself to be worthy of a witch’s affections? Will this really be Zelda’s last spell?
Review: This is a short story started in “Volume One” and concluded in “Volume Two” – both of which I received for free from the author. The author admits up front that this is an older story that she dusted off for publication. Although there were obvious issues, if this was an “old” work before she reached her stride as an author, I’m definitely going to be looking for more. The biggest issue for me was backstory – as in there obviously was one which we get hints of throughout. But it was cute, a fast read, and intriguing enough for me to want to look for more.
What I liked: the characters. And light-hearted giggles here and there, like the scene where Zelda is brewing a cup of tea with her new-found cat at her feet: “Here I was, a witch, leaning over a cauldron, with a black cat at my feet.” I liked the interaction of the characters and the flavor of a small town. The mystery was pretty standard and I figured out the culprit pretty early, but it was still a satisfying, quick, fun read.
What I didn’t like: a few minor editorial issues that had me cringing. Yes, I can be picky about them, but if it takes me out of the story, it’s a problem for me.
Recommendation: I’d definitely look for more books by this author—and I will.
Thanks to the author for providing this for free with no strings attached.
VENDETTA IN DEATH by J.D. Robb
Sci-Fi Thriller/Murder mystery
Publisher blurb: She calls herself Lady Justice. And once she has chosen a man as her target, she turns herself into a tall blonde or a curvaceous redhead, makes herself as alluring and seductive as possible to them. Once they are in her grasp, they are powerless.
The first victim is wealthy businessman Nigel McEnroy. His company’s human resources department has already paid out settlements to a couple of his young victims—but they don’t know that his crimes go far beyond workplace harassment. Lady Justice knows. And in one shocking night of brutality, she makes him pay a much steeper price.
Now Eve Dallas and her husband, Roarke, are combing through the evidence of McEnroy’s secret life. His compulsive need to record his misdeeds provides them with a wide range of suspects, but the true identity of Lady Justice remains elusive. It’s a challenging case, made even more difficult by McEnroy’s widow, who reacts to the investigation with fury, denial, and threats. Meanwhile, Lady Justice’s criminal crusade is escalating rapidly, and if Eve can’t stop this vigilante, there’s no telling how much blood may be spilled…
Review: I have to confess – I have never read any of the “In Death” books – which is something I’m going to rectify immediately. This is book number forty-nine in the series. Because of that, there is a lot of background that I was missing. And because of that, I had a a little trouble “getting” some of the character dynamics. But that doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy it. I knew “whodunnit” by the middle of the book, but it was still nice to see how the story played out.
What I liked: The “futuristic” aspect of the story was fun with androids and (I assume) flying cars. I loved Roarke – Eve’s husband – and their couple dynamic. The scene around page 215 with them talking about childbirth was hilarious – as in Eve would rather face a serial killer than go through that.
What I didn’t like: as mentioned above, I hadn’t read any of the previous books so the character dynamics didn’t work well because I had no idea who they were and what had happened in the past. But there were enough clues to let me know a little.
Recommendation: If you’ve read others in the series, definitely pick this one up! It’s deep and dark and thrilling with a satisfying ending. If you haven’t read any, I suggest you start with earlier ones. You can read this and enjoy it, but without the background, you won’t get the full Eve Dallas experience.
Thanks to the publisher for providing this book.
CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIE MURDER by Joanne Fluke
Publisher Blurb: Hannah Swensen already has her hands full, between dodging her mother’s attempts to marry her off, and running Lake Eden, Minnesota’s most popular bakery, The Cookie Jar. But when the Cozy Cow Dairy’s beloved deliveryman is found murdered behind Hannah’s bakery with her famous Chocolate Chip Crunchies scattered around him, Hannah sets out to track down a killer. The more Hannah snoops, the more suspects turn up. This is one murder that’s starting to leave a very bad taste in Hannah’s mouth, and if she doesn’t watch her back, her sweet life may get burned to a crisp.
Review: Even though this is an older book and I’d already seen the TV show (Hallmark mysteries), I did enjoy reading this—and seeing the myriad differences between the book and the TV show. I do believe it was updated from the original in that people now have cell phones and laptops, which is a good thing.
What I liked: getting to know the characters more in depth than the TV show allows. They are quirky, fun, and believable, as is the setting. Plugging in your car in the middle of winter may sound odd to those in more temperate climes, but it is a necessity in Minnesota and the cold of the winter comes across well. And the recipes! If you are a baker at all, you have got to try some of them!
What I didn’t like: very little. As I said, I was already familiar with this story from the TV series so pretty much knew what was going on, but seeing the differences between the show and the book was…interesting. I guess the only thing I didn’t care for is the realization of all the pounds I’m going to gain from making the recipes!
Recommendation: For a good start to the series, I’d definitely pick this one up first. Plus, my copy has a bonus novella in the back that was a good read as well. I liked it enough to go pick up all the other ones in the series so I’m looking forward to those reads.
Thanks to Kensington for providing this book. The opinions are all my own.
HAZARDS IN HAMPSHIRE by Emma Dakin
Publisher blurb: Claire Barclay, responding to an invitation to tea, does not expect to find her hostess murdered and herself the chief suspect. It is all overwhelming—a new house, a new village, new friends and now murder. She will cope, she always copes, but it won’t be easy.
Review: This is the first book in the British Book Tour Mystery series. In this one, we meet Claire Barclay, who grew up in England, moved to the States, and now is back in the village of Ashton-On-Tinch. She was doing okay teaching and working as a tour guide, but when her stepfather died, he left her a substantial amount of money, which allowed her to return to her roots. Though she doesn’t need the money, she continues offering tours to people who are enamored with British mysteries, showing them where authors like Agatha Christie and Sir Athor Conan Doyle lived and where their characters might have lived. The problem is, her quaint village isn’t as quiet as she’d hoped for as her first invitation to tea ends up with her discovering a body.
What I liked: Claire is a nice character, older than most standard cozies (she’s 47) but still younger than the iconic Miss Marple. The characters come across well as belonging to what seems to be a typical (as garnered from other books and television) English countryside village. The scenery was nicely done as we get a tour of the surrounding countryside and a variety of pubs and walking trails. Claire’s dealings with the tour group is nice and the wide variety of authors mentioned throughout is fun.
What I didn’t like: The killer seemed a little obvious to me as I had the person pegged from the beginning. I also had to wonder about the whole scene with the tour group where the troubled son called, etc. It just seemed so out of place and had absolutely nothing to do with the story. Also, when the tires were slashed on the bus and Claire showed up with a different mode of transportation, not a single person said anything? Not even her “boyfriend” the cop? I’d have thought someone would have said something.
Recommendation: This is the first in a series of British setting cozy mysteries. Though this one had some issues, I would recommend it and I will be looking for more. It was cute, with a satisfying ending (though there were a bunch of loose ends I’d like to see tied up). The book intrigued me enough—even with the above issues—that I will definitely look for more.
I was provided an advance copy. All thoughts and opinions are my own.
DEATH BEE COMES HER by Nancy Coco
Publisher Blurb: With her Let It Bee honey boutique buzzing along nicely, life is as sweet as nectar for Wren Johnson—until she takes a morning walk along the Pacific beach with her Havana Brown cat, Everett, and stumbles upon the body of Agnes Snow, the cranky queen of the local craft fairs, stiff as driftwood. More unfortunate? Clutched in the victim’s fist is a label from Wren’s homemade beeswax-and-honey lip balm. Which makes Officer Jim Hampton focus his dreamy-blue Paul Newman eyes on Wren as suspect number one. With fabulous feline support from Everett, Wren must comb the town for clues and clear her name before someone else gets stung.
Review: My thanks to Kensington for providing me with an ARC copy of this book. I enjoyed the book overall…but… even though this was an ARC, there were some editorial issues that glared at me. The story was really good for the most part, but it definitely needed some stronger editing.
What I liked: Everett, the cat. What an amazing animal. I also liked Wren and her friend Porsche as well as Aunt Eloise. I loved the description of her store, the bees, and their importance to the environment. I also liked the recipes that sprang up throughout the story and am going to try some. The descriptions of Halloweentown week was so much fun too.
What I didn’t like: those recipes that sprang up—sometimes in the middle of a scene that had nothing to do with the recipe. Recipes that had nothing to do with the story, but no recipes for things that were actually in the story (like the honey cookies). Honestly, I’d prefer to have had them at the end of the book rather than disrupting the flow of the story. They definitely allowed me to “put the book down and walk away” at times because they were so intrusive. Also…why introduce Conrad at all? If you’re setting him up to be a love interest later on, okay, but it really didn’t work in this story. It was as if the author just dumped him in because someone said she had to have a love interest that would conflict with the cop. And the same with the old high school enemy. Why? It made no sense. Another thing…on the day after Halloween, they closed the store early because there were absolutely no sales…so why is she going to the bank to make a deposit? There’s nothing to deposit if there are no sales. And on the last page…there is a glaring error that I hope has been fixed (re: the number of bodies).
Recommendation: I would recommend this because it *is* a good story with some fun things, but there needs to be some serious editing done first. I hope it got done.
Thanks to Kensington for providing me with this book for free.
POTIONS ARE FOR PUSHOVERS by Tamara Berry
Paranormal Cozy Mystery
Blurb: It may have been a ghost that led Eleanor Wilde to set up shop in a quaint English village. But now that she’s established herself as the town witch, Ellie’s contentedly casting spells on anyone desperate enough—or gullible enough—to request her mysterious potions…
Selling mystical elixirs and tantalizing tonics is a pretty good way for a fake medium to earn a living. Or at least it’s Ellie’s main source of income—until a villager turns up dead. The cause? Murder by poisoning. And though Ellie’s concoctions don’t include anything worthy of a skull and crossbones, suddenly she’s the prime suspect. Her only recourse is to find the culprit who did do away with Sarah Blackthorne. No one liked the mean old battle-axe. But did anyone hate her enough to kill her?
It’s enough of a mystery to make Ellie hang up her witch’s hat and take millionaire beau Nicholas Hartford up on his offer to keep her afloat. Except Ellie is not the kind of woman to lean on a man—least of all a man she adores but whose place in her life is uncertain. Besides, Ellie’s taken on two young witches-in-training—apprentices if you will—and both of them are convinced a werewolf is the murderer.
Just as Ellie’s wondering if there really is something otherworldly going on, animals suddenly begin to disappear—including her beloved cat, Beast. Now Ellie’s on the warpath to uncover the wicked truth about the people and the place she’s only just begun to call home…
After deciding to settle in a small English village, Eleanor Wilde finds establishing herself as a resident somewhat challenging. Ellie brews elixirs to sell and provides spells for villagers willing to pay, fueling speculation that she is a witch or psychic, when she is simply faking it.
This is the second in a series. In this one, Ellie has moved to a small village in Sussex, England and taken up residence in a cottage near the castle where her love interest, Nicholas, lives. Supporting herself as a witch, she’s not very popular in public, but many come to her back door for one of her potions. Lenora, the twelve-year-old daughter of the local schoolmaster and his doctor wife, signs up to shadow Ellie for a school project, though her mother objects to her being with a witch. Ellie gets caught up in the murder of Sarah Blackthorne, a local who’s hated by all and who is poisoned by tea laced with aconite also known as wolfsbane. Things get interesting when Lenora writes a paper on werewolves and her friend Rachel joins in the research to prove they are real. A neighbor’s pet pig is killed and the nephew of the murdered woman exhibits werewolf characteristics which adds to their reasoning. Reports of missing pets, including Ellie’s cat Beast, lead to more rumors of werewolves. And the appearance of a mysterious, handwritten journal piques the interest of Ellie, Lenora and Rachel leading to their determination to decode its meaning.
What I liked: The author keeps the reader glued to the page as she weaves several plot threads into a complex mystery full of twists and intriguing details. The characters are well developed, the dialogue realistic and the pace steady. An unexpected development with Beast is a sweet surprise. Even though this was not the first in the series, there are enough background clues that you don’t have to have read the others to know the characters and what’s going on here. I also loved the twist at the end—I hope that leads to more interesting developments in forthcoming books.
What I didn’t like: Actually, very little. It was a nice cozy mystery with paranormal aspects that added to the fun. Though I will be honest and say that I didn’t understand the deal with Nicholas and his mother and the castle. If he’s a millionaire several times over, why are they living in near poverty from the way it sounds? What does he do? That part was kind of confusing—but it’s a very small part of the overall story.
Recommendation: Get this book, especially if you like a little paranormal in your cozy mysteries. It’s fun, cute, and has a satisfying (and surprising) ending. Will definitely be looking for more from this author.
Thanks to Netgalley for providing this book in exchange for an honest review.
CAST IRON ALIBI by Victoria Hamilton
Blurb: Looking forward to her girls-only college reunion vacation, Jaymie’s on cloud nine at the idea of lazy trips to the beach, dinner cruises on the nearby river, and snug sleeping in the vintage trailer she’s renovated. But no sooner does the group reconnect than her hopes turn to tension as petty squabbles and old acrimonies surface, along with tagalong friends, unexpected guests, and stalkerish ex-husbands. And when a local tool-belt Romeo with an eye for one of the women is found murdered, his home ablaze, the simmering hostility in the group suddenly shifts to secrecy.
Local law enforcement is zeroing in on the victim’s best friend and girlfriend as the most likely suspects, but Jaymie’s inquisitive instincts are telling her one of her former classmates may have been involved in the foul deed. Forced to navigate her fraught relationship with a local police detective and determined to uncover the myriad secrets her college friends are hiding, Jaymie knows she’ll have to dig deep to figure out whose alibi is cast iron, and whose is flimsy as tin . . .
This is the ninth book in the “A Vintage Kitchen” series, but it’s the first one I read. There’s a cast of characters list at the beginning that provided enough detail to let you know who’s who so it can be read as a stand-alone. It’s set in upper Michigan on an island that requires a ferry to get to. The small town that is on the mainland is where the main character lives but she has a cabin on the island for vacations.
What I liked: I liked that it wasn’t obvious who the killer was because of the plethora of suspects. I liked Jaymie’s relationship with her husband and stepdaughter—very well done. I liked the descriptions of the campfires, the trailer, and other settings as well as mountain pies. Love them! The ending was a good twist. And I’m going to have to find the recipe for those butter tarts she described. There is a recipe at the end for hobo packets that took me back to my camping days. The “camping” part of the story was really well done and made me long for those times once again. I could almost smell the fire, hear it crackling, taste the s’mores… Excellently done (though I did wonder where the mosquitoes were).
What I didn’t like: the characters. Okay, not all of them, but most of Jaymie’s friends were very unlikable. I was ready to throttle a few of them and Jaymie came across as a bit wimpy when it came to standing up for herself with them—especially Tiffany! Yes, it was nice to get together with her old friends, but some of them were no friends of hers any longer and should have been told to take off.
Recommendation: I’d recommend reading other books in this series first—though it’s not absolutely necessary. But I believe it would give you a better basis for some of the characters in this one. Still…it’s not a bad cozy. So pick it up if you’re familiar with the series and maybe enjoy a campfire and a mountain pie while you’re at it.
Thanks to Netgalley for providing this book in exchange for an honest review.
A STUDY IN MURDER by Callie Hutton
Victorian Book Club Mystery
Blurb: Bath, England, 1890. Mystery author Lady Amy Lovell receives an anonymous letter containing shocking news: her fiancé, Mr. Ronald St. Vincent, has been dabbling in something illegal, which causes her to promptly break their engagement.
Two evenings later, as Lady Lovell awaits a visit from Lord William Wethington, fellow member of the Bath Mystery Book Club, her former fiancé makes an unexpected and most unwelcome appearance at her house. She promptly sends him to the library to cool his heels but later discovers the room seemingly empty–until she stumbles upon a dead Mr. St. Vincent with a knife in his chest.
Lord Wethington arrives to find Lady Amy screaming and sends for the police, but the Bobbies immediately assume that she is the killer. Desperate to clear her name, Lady Amy and Lord Wethington launch their own investigation–and stir up a hornet’s nest of suspects, from the gardener who served time in prison for murder to a vengeful woman who was spurned by St. Vincent before he proposed to Lady Amy.
Can they close the book on the case before the real killer gets away with murder?
This is a murder mystery set in 1890 and is the first book in the A Victorian Book Club Mystery series by Callie Hutton. The main character, Lady Amy Lovell, is an author of mystery novels and her father, who disapproves of this, gets her to agree to write under a pseudonym. In addition, she belongs to a reading club that specializes in murder mysteries. She is also the prime suspect in the murder of her ex-fiancé since he ended up dead in her library.
At the start, the police seem too eager to convict Amy which gives Amy the motivation she needs to look into the murder and find the killer herself. With the help of her friend, Lord William Wethington, they dig into her s life and come up with a list of suspects with possible motives.
Things I liked: Amy’s constant reminding everyone that the victim is her ex-fiancé – and then everyone saying to her at the end! Laughed so hard at that one. Though I don’t normally read many historicals, I found myself intrigued by this one from the start. Amy is a young woman of society, gently reared, and yet… she not only writes murder mysteries, but solves them herself. I also loved Lord Wethington! He not only supports her, but does so with a sense of humor. And the last line in the book lets you know that Amy and the lord are not done with murders. The ending was satisfying and made sense with the clues given.
Things I didn’t like: In all their digging, did the police never find out that Amy was a murder mystery writer? That seemed a bit odd as it would have given them even more reason to suspect her.
Recommendation: I would definitely recommend this, not just to those who like historical mysteries, but as a crossover for both genres. The society details were well done as well as the mystery. A nice blend of both leading to a satisfying ending and a nice beginning of a new series.
Thanks to NetGalley, Crooked Lane Books and the author, Callie Hutton, for this ARC that I received in return for an honest review. Expected Publication date: 12 May 2020
MURDER BEACH by Rena Leith
Blurb: Her husband’s infidelity turns Cass Peake’s world upside down. Hoping to start fresh, she moves to a sleepy little town called Las Lunas on the northern California coast. The cute seaside bungalow is surprisingly affordable and Cass snaps it up. She soon discovers why the place was so cheap; it’s haunted! And the beach by her new home is called Murder Beach by locals. She can’t even get a pizza delivered. Back in the Roaring Twenties, the bodies of Doris Pierpont, a notorious bootlegger’s daughter, and her lover were discovered on the beach. Summoned by a seance in the Swinging Sixties, Doris returned to the house. Now she wants to know who murdered her. As Cass tries to make a new life and solve Doris’s murder, the corpse of the local bookstore owner is found in the sand. Is Murder Beach living up to its name once again?
Review: This is the first of a series, but the second book I read in the series and I strongly suggest anyone who reads them to start with this one. The second one makes much more sense then!
It’s a cute cozy mystery with a ghost (Doris) who wants her murder solved, a cat who doesn’t particularly like it when Doris takes him over, quirky characters, and more. Cass has divorced her philandering husband, moved from her posh San Francisco home to a coastal cottage, and is working on finding a new job, new friends—and the clues to who murdered her resident ghost and the bookstore owner. Oh, and the local detective is an old boyfriend. Let the fun begin.
What I liked: The characters are fun, weird, and definitely not boring. I especially loved Doris—she’s so much fun! The author had me hooked with her first line: “Ghosts can be murder on property values.” I knew then this was going to be fun. And it was.
What I didn’t like: a few minor editorial issues (peaked vs. piqued) and other similar things. Not enough to detract from the story, but a stronger proofreader would have helped.
Recommendation: Definitely pick this one up for a fun read.
Thanks to Netgalley for providing this book in exchange for an honest review.
COASTAL CORPSE by Rena Leith
Blurb: Happily settled in her cozy cottage with its resident ghost, Cass Peake looks forward to Halloween. Then another corpse is found on her beachfront. With the support of family and her ghostly roommate, Cass investigates. To her dismay, she finds the murder victim handled her goofy neighbor’s trust fund and he was in dire need of money. The suspect list grows with a former husband, another needy relative, and a maybe shady accountant who suddenly disappears. To top it all off, rumors circulate about treasure hidden in Cass’s cottage. Detective George Ho doesn’t like his Cass snooping around. Despite that, sparks still fly between him and Cass. But superstitious George has no idea Cass’s home is haunted. Can Cass solve the mystery and renew the romance with her ghost-adverse ex?
Now that she has settled into her haunted seaside cottage, with its resident ghost Doris, Cass is looking forward to Halloween with her brother and sister-in-law. But when a murdered body is found near her house, things get a little too spooky. The body the aunt of her close neighbor—and she just happens to be the person running his trust fund. The suspect list grows as Cass discovers reasons for them all to want the woman dead. To complicate matters, Detective George Ho, an old/maybe new again boyfriend, doesn’t like Cassie snooping around because she might be the target. And then there’s Doris, Cass’s ghost, who helps out with some of the mystery, but also causes problems when superstitious George finds out about her.
What I liked: Doris! She’s a hoot. And Thor (the cat who Doris sometimes inhabits). In fact, all the characters were interesting as was the mystery itself. It’s an interesting mix of cozy mystery and paranormal aspects that meld together well.
What I didn’t like: Coming into a series when you haven’t read the first one often leaves you trying to figure out back story. I was a little lost because of this. But… that being said, I wasn’t so lost that I didn’t enjoy the story. Also, there were two clues that I don’t believe were addressed and I wondered who had done them: who left the recording pen in Cass’s kitchen and who took the plastic bag of “found” things from the counter? I *think* I know who it was, but am not certain. Just a couple of really small details that left me dangling.
Recommendations: I definitely recommend this, but suggest strongly that you get the first one in the series first (Murder Beach) and read that so you know better what’s going on. Beyond that, I can’t wait for more of these books!
Thanks to Netgalley for providing me with this ARC in exchange for an honest review
WINTER TAKES ALL by ML Erdahl
Blurb: Crystal Rainey is aghast when she realizes her new year’s resolutions haven’t changed one whit from the previous year. Wanting to escape a future as dreary as a Pacific Northwest winter, she walks out on her dead-end office job, despite her tenuous savings account. Stumbling across a job opening posted by a wilderness guide outfit, an intrigued Crystal bluffs her way into the position. With handsome fellow guide, the stalwart Conner Oakes, she leads a corporate retreat on a snowshoe hike to a majestic alpine chalet. But when the company’s detestable owner turns up dead in the snow, she fears her new life and budding romance slipping away. She finally has something worth fighting for and is determined to solve the murder and grab her chance at happiness before it’s too late.
This was a fun read. Crystal is perfectly imperfect. She’s tired of working for an abusive boss in a dead-end job (who hasn’t had that experience?) so she quits and tries for something new. As a guide, she finds a new boyfriend…and plunges headfirst into solving a murder just so she can keep the new job—as well as her condo. Her car barely makes it around town (and sometimes doesn’t). Her cat is evil. Her younger sister is the star of the family. She just wants something to go right.
What I liked: Crystal! I especially liked the scene where she pulls her rattletrap car into a fast-food parking lot and just sits there and cries—then finds her backbone again. I loved Roxie, the chef who pretends to be from the south. And her cat! That cat is pure evil, but she keeps him anyway. So much fun. And the ending with catching the murderer was realistic and well-done. The setting was also well done.
What I didn’t like: The only thing that kept this from being five stars was the editing. Even though I know this is an ARC and therefore hasn’t gone through final editing, there were too many mistakes that should have been caught before this. Maybe they’re only glaring to me, and I know typos and errors occur all the time in books. It happens. But this one had a few too many for me to ignore. ☹
Recommendation: Ignoring the editorial issues, I would recommend this book as a light-hearted fun cozy mystery with a satisfying ending.
HOUNDS OF THE BASKET STITCH by Anne Canadeo
Maggie and her knitting friends—Dana, Lucy, Phoebe, Suzanne—head out to the Piper Sisters’ plant nursery for their weekly knitting get-together. Rose and Holly Piper are close enough to Dana to call her “Aunt” and she helps them out where she can. During their teen years, Rose and Holly were in an accident that killed one young man and left Rose with serious head trauma that she never really recovered from. After their parents’ deaths, Holly took on not only the family business, but Rose’s care. As part of her therapy, Rose takes in dogs and trains them. Now, years later, someone is trying to hurt the girls. The friends believe it was the girls’ half-brother who showed up after ten years and tries to take over the nursery. When someone burns down the greenhouse and tries to kill Holly, the friends go to work to figure out who could be so horrible—but they have too many suspects.
What I liked: This is a cute cozy mystery all about family ties, vengeance, and friendship. I liked the character of Rose and how, even with her problems, she is respected for her work with dogs and trains them well. I liked how the friends all worked together to help Holly and Rose and Dana cope with everything that was going on. I liked the satisfying ending and especially liked the links to knitting techniques in the end and the recipes, not only for human food, but dog treats as well. I especially liked that Holly had a a happy ending.
What I didn’t like: Hmm – how to say this without giving away a spoiler. There was one nasty person who didn’t get any consequences in the end and I would have preferred to see that happen. Also, I was a little confused at times as to who was telling the story. I believe Maggie is the main character, but the cast—being quite large—made it a little hard to figure out sometimes.
Recommendations: If you’re familiar with the series, I’d recommend this one as a good addition. You can read—and enjoy—it without having read the others, but it helps to know the characters better if you do. I’d also take a definite look at the other series this author has in cozy mysteries. I know she’s definitely on my “to buy” list now, and should be on yours as well.
A CATERED NEW YEAR’S EVE by Isis Crawford
Bernie and Libby are sleuthing sisters who also run a catering business and (I think) work in a restaurant? I’m not completely sure about the restaurant. After doing a DNA test, they connect with a cousin, Ada, who convinces them to cater a family New Year’s Eve party. Sean, Bernie and Libby’s dad, tries to convince them otherwise, saying that that branch of the family is less than honest—or sane. They go anyway and meet their relatives…who aren’t happy to see them. It’s also the tenth anniversary of Ada’s dad’s death. While the police chalked it up to accidental, Ada has always believed he was murdered and she’s out to prove it. Unfortunately, a family friend in attendance ends up being murdered and Ada is the prime suspect. It’s up to Bernie and Libby to find out who the real killer is.
This was a challenging book for me to read. It’s almost all ping-pong dialogue with very little setting details. Other than it’s freezing, snowing, and they drive around in a less-than-reliable van, there’s not much else in the way of description. We don’t even know exactly where they are (somewhere along the Hudson River) until chapter thirteen. Point of View is all over the place with multiple people so you’re not even sure who the main character is supposed to be. The sisters do nothing but snipe at each other and argue about what to do—mostly with Bernie winning. They remind me of a couple of old biddies who have nothing better to do than argue. Their father, Sean, seems to have a Blofeld complex (James Bond character who always had a cat) in that he’s always petting one. Sean, Bernie, and Libby keep chasing down clues to the murderer, but ex-cop Sean seems to be the one who puts it all together. So I’m not sure who the sleuths are supposed to be. Also, the girls go through the dead woman’s house looking for clues and find one, but wouldn’t the police have already done that? There are just too many things here that don’t make sense to me.
Things I liked: The story has an interesting premise and the ending is satisfying. And the recipes are good!
Things I didn’t like: the ping-pong dialogue with no relief; multiple POVs in the same scene; no descriptions (I don’t even know what the girls look like); the incongruities with police procedures (the police would have gone to the dead woman’s house). Half the time, I couldn’t figure out what anyone was doing—and I read cozy mysteries on a regular basis (at least two a week). So I’m not new to the genre.
Recommendations: I know this is the next book in an on-going series, but honestly, there is nothing here for me to recommend. Maybe I’d like it better if I’d read the earlier ones, but this needed a heavier hand in the editing. If you’re okay with multiple POVs, head-hopping all over the place, ping-pong dialogue, then maybe you’ll like this. As for me, though I hate to say it, it’s a no for me. I am sorry.
Thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.
SILENT KNIT, DEADLY KNIT by Peggy Earhart
This is the fourth book in the cozy “Knit & Nibble Mystery” series. I have not read the others in the series, but had no trouble getting into this story so it’s not absolutely necessary to have read them in order—but it would probably help with knowing who’s who and where they fit into the story.
In the series, Pamela Paterson is the sleuth. She has joined the Knit and Nibble gang who enjoy crafting their projects as well as making goodies to share. She works at home for a “fiber” related magazine—which figures into her solving the murder. In this one, Pamela’s daughter Penny is home from college for the Christmas break and, while on a hike, discovers the body of one of the knitters’ friends. There are the usual suspects and an interesting twist at the end that I didn’t see coming. I also love the idea Pamela came up with in order to trap the killer. That was fun (not giving away secrets!).
Things I liked: the twist at the end. The characters were also interesting. And all the references to holiday music set the stage well.
Things I didn’t like: The author tends to go on for much too long with “filler” – describing every step in great detail of how the character is baking something, the plates (and colors) being used and more. There was so much of this that had absolutely nothing to do with the mystery. I found myself skipping entire pages of this filler. It really turned me off of the entire story, which was a shame because I think it could have been really enjoyable except for that.
Recommendation: If you’re already reading the series, pick this one up. The mystery part of the story is really good. It’s all the filler that drags it down into the three-sparkler level.
NOGGED OFF by Barbara Ross
Cozy Mystery – Novella
In this Christmas themed part of the Maine Clambake series, Julia Snowden is heading to NYC to pack up the last of the personal items in her apartment before she moves permanently to Maine. When she arrives, the woman who is subletting her apartment has just quit her job and can’t take the lease over. With no other options, Julia rents a moving truck and packs up the apartment. To her surprise, Imogen—the renter—heads to Maine with her.
While she’s packing the truck, Julia spots a man sitting in a white car who appears to be watching them, but thinks no more of it once she gets on the road. When she stops LL Bean for Imogen to get warm clothes for Maine, she sees the car again. But she gets home and parks the truck and Imogen, at her mother’s house and goes to her apartment to sleep. When she wakes up, the truck and all of her belongings are gone.
When the truck is found, Imogen’s ex boyfriend is in the back—dead.
This novella is the first I have read in this series, but it is fine as a stand alone. The author gives you enough information so you’re not lost with what’s going on.
What I liked: the characters and especially, the local flavor. The “Gentleman’s Night” of shopping before Christmas. The pajama breakfast (and shopping). I can just see that happening in a small town. I like the twist at the end (not giving away any spoilers).
What I didn’t like: Honestly? It was too short! LOL. I enjoyed the story and wished it was longer.
Recommendation: If you’re reading this series, this is a must. If you haven’t, it’s a cute way to get introduced to the characters. I will be picking up more by this author in this series.
Thanks to Kensington Press and Netgalley for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.
COACHED TO DEATH by Victoria Laurie
I don’t know how to describe this book. It’s not quite a straight mystery and not quite a cozy mystery. At least not in the way I think of those two genres. For me, a cozy has an amateur sleuth—which this does—and takes place often in a small town where everyone knows everyone. This takes place in the posh Hampton’s in New England. It’s a place of Ferraris, BMWs, mansions, and designer clothes. And our amateur sleuth—Catherine—is ultra-rich. Okay, I can accept that. It’s different. Unique. Interesting.
But… the murder and the bad guys are more in line with a standard thriller—Russian mafia, professional assassins, mysterious people showing up, multiple murders. And the one thing that frustrated me—two heavy threads left dangling. Oh, the initial mystery was solved. We know who murdered the main victim and why, but the rest… we’re left with questions that will (hopefully) be answered in later books.
Catherine (Cat) is a rich divorcee with twin fourteen-year-old sons (away at boarding school). She made her money by running a successful marketing business, sold it, and now works as a personal life coach. She bought land in the Hampton’s and is building a big house there. Meanwhile, she’s living in the guest house with her best friend, Gillie while his husband is traveling. When Cat’s neighbor is murdered, she becomes the prime suspect thanks to a very public threat she made earlier when the woman humiliated Cat. It’s up to Cat and Gillie to prove her innocence, but they have to deal with a surly detective, a mysterious—but delicious—man who flirts with her, and more.
Things I liked: Sebastian! The house electronic “butler” who does everything a computer can do for her. I want Sebastian! I am in love with him. I like the unique setting, the fact that Cat is not your standard amateur sleuth in that she’s uber-rich. She’s different and interesting. And I love Gillie too! He’s so sweet.
What I didn’t like: the two huge threads left dangling (no, I won’t say what they are – that’s cheating). I don’t mind a small thread or two in a cozy—like the continuing relationship between the sleuth and someone (usually a law person)—which we have here—but I was highly frustrated by the two unknowns that will continue (I assume). When I turned the last page, I was actually angry. I tried to page on past to see if it finished, but it didn’t. I had to be satisfied with the ending I got—and I wasn’t. Yes, we solved who killed the main victim. But… yeah, not happy.
Recommendation: This is a darker, heavier “cozy” that is a good story at its base, but be prepared for heavier subjects like Russian mob and professional assassins. If that’s okay with you, also understand that there are two major threads (and a minor one or two) that do not get solved. As long as you’re aware of that, the ending is okay then. Overall, though, it was a good story, which is why it got four sparklers. I did enjoy it right up to the end. If I were true to myself, I would have downgraded it, but… it’s a decent story. I’m just one of those readers who likes things tied up in neat bows and this one left the ribbons dangling.
Thanks to Netgalley and Kensington for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.
APPLE CIDER SLAYING by Julie Anne Lindsey
Winnie Montgomery is trying desperately to increase income at her Granny’s orchard and having a winter fest and opening a cider bar/restaurant/gathering space is her dream, but she needs a bank loan to help her dreams come true. But every time she invites the banker out to see the space, something disastrous happens – like a dead body in the cider press building, and Granny Smythe being the main suspect. The nastiness keeps piling up with threats and more. Sheriff Colton Wise tries to keep Winnie from interfering, but what’s a girl to do when her granny is the one being blamed? So of course she continues what she’s doing—even when the real killer goes after her.
This is such a fun book. I love the names—Granny Smythe runs an apple orchard! And the kittens: Dolly and Kenny (Rogers). It’s a light-hearted cozy mystery that gives a satisfying ending. The only question I had while reading was about half-way through the book, Winnie is dead tired but decides to do one more online search to see what she can find about her dead neighbor. Then the sheriff, Colton Wise, calls. After they talk, she goes to make gallons of cider rather than going to bed. Doesn’t make sense to me, but that’s the only thing I questioned in the story. The descriptions and setting are amazing. I can picture everything right away. The characters believable and realistic. And the reason behind the murder and other issues is also believable. Well done.
Things I liked: the names, the setting, the characters… all well done, believable, and realistic. Oh, and the recipes in the back? Nice! And delicious!
Things I didn’t like: Other than that one question above, nothing. I had fun reading this and it went quickly.
Recommendation: I would definitely recommend this as a fun cozy and I will be looking for more books by this author.
Thanks to Netgalley for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review
IN COLD CHAMOMILE by Joy Avon
Callie Asper is in charge of a Valentine’s Day event at a mansion. She has lots of activities—Fall in Love with Books, Fall in Love with Music, Fall in Love with… something for everyone. Her great-aunt Iphy is manning the tea room part of the event. Everything is going smoothly until the singer shows up. Sean Strong is not the singer who was supposed to be there, but he tells them he’s stepping in for a sick friend. Callie notices, though, that there’s something odd between him and Iphy. But she’s got too much on her mind to look into it. Like the famous antiques/book dealer who seems to be under-rating everything shown him, and who’s doing his best to make sure nobody likes him. Then he ends up dead and Callie is thrown into helping solve another murder—against the strong wishes of her sometimes boyfriend/cop Ace.
This is a cute, standard cozy mystery with a murder, an amateur sleuth, and a cop who doesn’t want them involved. There’s lots of angst going on throughout the story, but it’s all tied up nicely at the end. Though this is obviously part of a series, it is a stand alone that can be read without reading the others, but you are missing some of the background, especially concerning Callie and her relationship with Ace.
Things I liked: The names! I absolutely love Callie and Iphy’s names—though we only learn Iphy’s real name once. We never do find out if Callie is short for something (maybe Calliope?). The characters were realistic and well-developed.
Things I didn’t like: There’s nothing overt that I didn’t like, but the book didn’t wow me. Setting was almost non-existent. Callie and Iphy run a tea room, but we have no idea what it looks like. Or the great mansion. Or even the town. I’d really like to have more sensory input as well. And…for me…it was kind of obvious who the perpetrator was.
Recommendations: I’d suggest reading the other books in the series first. Not because you can’t get what’s going on but so you have the background on the characters, the town, etc. As I said above, it’s not a bad book so if you’ve read the others in the series, pick this one up.
Thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for providing this book in exchange for an honest review.
HOUND ON THE SOUND: LEGAL BEAGLE COZY MYSTERY by Jessa Archer
Cozy Mystery Novella
This is a cute, sweet, short (novella length) cozy mystery. Unlike most mysteries, there’s not really a dead body—unless you consider a spirit a dead body. The mystery has to do with putting the ghost to rest not by finding the murderer. After all, she was hung for being a witch so there’s no mystery about that. But…something was lost that needs to be found.
Pepper Sullivan wants to ditch her big city law job and move back to Misty-on-the-Sound, the small town where she grew up and open up a law practice there. When a beautiful ocean-side house becomes available at a reasonable price, she does that—but there’s something about the house. It’s haunted. With the help of her beagle, Mr. Woogles, Pepper attempts to solve the mystery of the ghost in the house. She has to put up with the spirit, her nosy mom, a crooked lawyer/realtor, and her ex-boyfriend.
Things I liked: It was a cute, fluffy story with a good ending. I believe this might be a prologue to longer Legal Beagle mysteries and if so, it’s a good set up. The setting was beautiful, though I’d like to see more of the house. As important as it was, we “see” very little of it other than it’s much bigger than her NYC apartment.
Things I didn’t like: There was a major timeline issue with the story that stopped me in my tracks. Most people probably wouldn’t even notice it, but my training as an editor just wouldn’t let me go past it. Basically, it’s 5 p.m. Sunday and Pepper is in her apartment, packing. A few paragraphs later, she says she has to be out of the apartment by 4 p.m. Oops #1. Her mother calls and they talk about dinner. Pepper says it’s a two hour drive so she won’t be there until 7. Okay, that fits, except she still has to finish packing everything up, haul it all down to the car/movers, and still drive the two hours. Oops #2. An easy fix would be if instead of 5 p.m., it’s 3 p.m. Then this would work. Also… she’s moving into an old house that’s been sitting empty for a while. She doesn’t have to do any painting/cleaning/fixing? I’ve moved a lot and there’s always something to do. You don’t just move in and have everything ready to go.
Recommendation: If you’re reading the other books in this series, this would be a good starter. It gives you the background on the characters, the setting, and more all in a neat little package. But don’t expect an in-depth read. This is light fluff. Yes, the “mystery” is solved, but there’s almost nothing else. It’s a prologue to the series and nothing more.
A CUP OF HOLIDAY FEAR by Ellie Alexander
Juliet Montague Capshaw owns a bakery in Ashland, Oregon. She recently moved back there after ten years because she wanted to find her roots. Like many small business owners and small towns, she knows almost everyone.
It’s Christmas and everyone is celebrating with parades, feasts, and more. But there’s something dark underneath all the joy in town—something that leads to murder.
This is a standard cozy mystery with an amateur sleuth and lots of suspects, but that’s where the stereotyping ends. Unlike most cozies, the sleuth is never in mortal danger (which is not necessarily a bad thing!). And she doesn’t have an in-town boyfriend. Instead, she has a husband (who’s off at sea for the entire story) and a stepson (who also doesn’t show up until the end). Different, but interesting. The killer is kind of easy to spot, but nothing is really given away until the end—and again, nobody is in mortal danger. Yes, Juliet goes into the dark basement for things, but…really, no angst there.
Things I liked: the imagery! The writer has a deft hand with describing the scenery and the surroundings. I almost wanted to get a cup of hot peppermint cocoa to drink while reading—during ninety-degree weather where I am! I also liked the characters—they were well described and believable, as was the reason for the murder. Plus, no angst about the main characters being in danger. Kind of a nice change from the norm. And her name! Ashland, OR is famous for its Shakespearean Festival and theater and to name the main character after Juliet…had to smile at that.
Things I didn’t like: I was just a little lost with the whole absent husband thing and exactly who the Professor (Doug) is—I gather he’s a police detective? But I’m not certain. This is not the first in the series, so I assume these things were explained in earlier books. Also, going back to the norm with most cozies, there was never any danger for any of the characters (except the victim—and it was obvious from the beginning who it was going to be).
Recommendation: I really would recommend this series, but I’d recommend you start with book one (Meet your Baker) so you understand the connections between characters and who they are. I know I’ll definitely be looking to get the series. Not necessarily because of the mystery, but the imagery alone drew me in. I want to be there—and can, through the books.
WONTON TERROR by Vivien Chien
Asian Cozy Mystery
Wonton Terror is the fourth installment of the Noodle Shop Mystery series. Lana Lee, the amateur sleuth, manages her family’s restaurant. She lives with her best friend Megan—a bartender—and is dating a cop, Adam, who she presumably met on a previous case.
This story opens with Lana and one of her cooks, Peter Huang, running a booth for the restaurant at Cleveland’s Night Market. During a lull in business Lana notices the son of her mother’s old friend arguing with his father at their food truck. A short time later, the food truck explodes, killing the owner, Ronnie, and injuring several others. Ronnie’s wife Sandra becomes the top suspect in the explosion, so Lana begins to investigate to try to clear her mother’s friend’s name.
The theme of this book seems to be family issues—Lana with her sister, Lana’s mother with her sister (Lana’s aunt), the owner of the food truck with his wife and son and his wife’s brother. Most of the issues are the usual family bickering, but, for some (Ronnie and Sandra), it goes much deeper into the issue of domestic abuse. This can be a difficult subject for some and I wish the author had put in an afterword about where victims of domestic abuse could find help. There are hotlines available for this and I wish the author had included them.
I was also a little confused as to why Lana’s family, who own a restaurant, went to so many other restaurants to eat out—which it appears they did often. I can understand it once in a while, but it seemed almost every other chapter involved them eating out at another restaurant.
Things I liked: It was an interesting story with a different kind of amateur sleuth (Chinese) and the dynamics of Lana’s family. It was a unique read. The mystery was fair with ample suspects.
Things I didn’t like: It was a little slow with too much emphasis on Lana’s family dynamics. They were always bickering and it got old after a while.
Recommendation: Overall the story was okay, but I probably won’t add the series to my list of must-buy cozies. It was good, but just didn’t grab me hard enough to make me want to go out and get more.
Thanks to Netgalley for the free review copy.
DACHSHUND THROUGH THE SNOW by David Rosenfelt
Andy Carpenter is a rich lawyer with a beautiful ex-cop wife and a son. He only takes on cases when he wants to—which, thanks to his wife and friends, is a lot more often than he cares for. The case in this story is about a murder that happened fourteen years ago. The victim was a young woman, strangled. Her killer was never found but police think they have their man now as DNA evidence became available. Like most perps, he swears he didn’t do it, but she had his skin under her fingernails. In investigating, Andy runs into a lot more than he bargained for, including an assassin wanted by Interpol.
This was an interesting book—different from most cozy mysteries. Those usually have an amateur sleuth who wants to find the killer. In this one, Andy is a lawyer with lots of experience and a team of investigators to back him up. There were lots of possible bad guys and reasons for the girl’s murder. I will say I was surprised by the end as the villain wasn’t who I expected—which is a good thing. I’m usually much better at figuring that out.
Things I liked: it was unique with the lawyer/cop wife. There were a lot of twists and turns to keep you interested. It’s also different to have a sleuth who doesn’t want to be a sleuth. He wants nothing to do with the case, but goes into it determined to win. I loved Andy’s dogs and his wry humor.
Things I didn’t like: the skipping from first person when we’re with Andy, to third person at times when with other parties. Sometimes I wasn’t sure who I was with except when I was with Andy. Plus, it was a little slow at times.
Recommendation: If you’re looking for something different than the usual amateur sleuth cozy, I’d definitely pick this one up.
I received this book for free from the publisher via Netgalley in return for an honest review.
THE ESCAPE ROOM by Megan Goldin
Suspense (This is NOT a cozy mystery)
Wow. Just…wow. This is a 350+ page book and I read it in one day. I can’t say that about a lot of books, but this one I can. It’s a gripping suspense story that grabs you at the beginning and holds onto you until the very end.
So… the bad things first. I’m not generally a fan of mixed point of view and I really don’t like omniscient POV that head hops all over the place because I don’t know whose head I’m supposed to be in. This one switches from first person in one chapter to third person omniscient in the next and back and forth depending on who we’re with. It’s told from the point of view of the main character, Sara (1st person), and four of her colleagues (third person omniscient) separated by chapters(which is good). It also flips back and forth between past and present. But, that being said, once you get into the story, it’s not as off-putting as it sounds because the story itself is so good.
And that’s the saving grace and the reason it got five sparklers instead of a lower rating. The story is just that good. Okay, there were a couple of other “editorial” issues that caught my eye, but that’s me. As far as the story goes… my first impression stands. Wow. I could not put this down. I just kept reading, even though I had other things to do. And that’s what makes it a five star. If you’ve grabbed me that strongly that I can’t put it down, that’s worth the top rating.
The story centers around Sara Hall—a young woman who lands a prime job at a top financial corporation in New York—and her four main colleagues. To the sharks at the top, getting rich is all that matters. But when financing takes a downward turn, things get interesting. The four colleagues end up in an elevator escape room where they begin to show their true colors, and it isn’t pretty. Not only do they need to survive, but the biggest mystery to solve is what happened to Sara.
The ending is brilliant and unexpected.
Kudos to the author for making me forget the head-hopping, the POV flip-flopping and draw me so deeply into the story that I couldn’t stop reading. Well done, and definitely recommended.
Murder with Lemon Tea Cakes by Karen Rose Smith
Cozy Mystery – Book 1 of Daisy’s Tea Garden Mysteries
I really enjoyed this book. The characters in the small town that the author created are realistic with problems and issues that we all face. The small town atmosphere comes through as well. And tying it to a tea shop with recipes I can then try… nice. 🙂
Daisy and her aunt Iris run a small tea shop in a nice little town. Daisy is widowed with two teenage daughters. I love that one is adopted and searching for her biological parents – the emotions we see Daisy go through with this are spot on. There are love interests, but nothing too serious.
The murder – and the reason behind it – are well done. We’re given lots of options for the person(s) who “dunit”, including Daisy’s aunt. The ending is satisfying, but you know this is the beginning of a series as there are several threads left dangling (but not who the murderer is!). The murder is solved, but we’re just getting started with Daisy’s life.
The only thing that didn’t seem to fit was the subplot of Daisy’s adopted daughter, Jazzy, looking for her birth parents. You could have taken that entire subplot out and it wouldn’t have made a difference to the story. Yes, it gives us insight into Daisy’s life, but it just didn’t seem to fit. Still… the rest of the story was really good.
Overall, a satisfying read with a good ending.
The Body on the Train by Frances Brody
Cozy mystery – 1929 British
In this eleventh book in the Kate Shackleton series, Scotland Yard calls in Kate to investigate an unidentified body is found on a special train from Yorkshire, but they thwart her efforts by demanding her silence on certain things. During her investigation, she learns of another murder—one that supposedly has no connection to the one she’s looking into—or does it? Kate doesn’t believe in coincidences. The local police believe they have the culprit for the second one, but Kate believes he is innocent and is determined. She goes to work with her crew of assistants (an ex-cop turned PI and her housekeeper) to uncover the truth.
The plot and setting for this story were intriguing, but there was too much story—especially the details of rhubarb growing and mining in the area. Yes, the history was interesting at times (I had no idea there was so much call for rhubarb!), but it dragged down the story. The solution was fairly obvious from the beginning, and the end was something of an let down. I will say I found the characters interesting and diverse, but I didn’t pick this up to read a history of rhubarb.
As for the writing, note that there are multiple points of view and though Kate’s is in first person, the rest are all in third person, something I found distracting at times. There was also a lot of head-hopping.
Overall opinion: it’s an interesting cozy somewhat in the style of the Australian TV show, Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries – same era (1920s) and all that entails. I felt it was a little slow due to the historical facts, and the end was a little anticlimactic, but overall, it’s not a bad read. If you enjoy the other books in the series, you’ll like this one as well. It did intrigue me enough that I will probably look for others.
My thanks to NetGalley and Crooked Lane books for the advanced reader copy made available for my review.
CARPET DIEM by Misty Simon
4 ½ Sparklers
Tallie Graver has done it again. Okay, for those of you who are not familiar with the Tallie Graver cozy mysteries, Tallie is a 30-something woman who was once rich and now works as a cleaning lady for the same rich folks she used to pal around with. She lives in a tiny studio apartment over the funeral home her family owns—along with a St. Bernard, an uppity cat, and, on occasion, her boyfriend Max. When Tallie divorced her rich husband, she took on the role of squeegee queen. She now has built a reputation as an honest—and good—cleaner and has a crew of women working for her. She is quirky and fun and adding a little bit of romance to the mystery only ups the intrigue.
Like most cozy mysteries, this one is set in a small town where everyone knows everyone and think they know everything. But it is really Tallie who has all the info. Well, almost. In this one, she relies on Max to help her dig up the dirt on the possible perpetrators. That, in addition to the gossip queen (friend Gina’s mother!) and other sources, Tallie starts putting together the pieces of this puzzle.
In this one, Tallie is helping the local chief of police, Burton, figure out who killed the woman rolled up in the carpet in the dumpster. But nothing is coming together. There are too many clues—and not enough. Both Burton and Tallie are frustrated. But things do come together in the end.
I love these stories, but the end of this one felt a little rushed to me. I couldn’t figure a couple things out (like how everyone knew Tallie was in trouble and how they all got to where she was). That’s the only reason for the half-sparkler off. But you have to try the recipe for snickerdoodles that is included. Yummy cookies!
If you’re a cozy-mystery lover, take a look at the Tallie Graver mysteries. Each book is a stand-alone, but I’d start with the first one (Deceased and Desist) just so you know what’s going on in Tallie’s life and the background on some of the people. It’s not absolutely necessary, but it is a good idea.
I definitely recommend these books.
Note: I received this ARC free from the author for a true and honest review.
Also noted: Misty is a friend of mine, but the review is honest and I still recommend the books.
AN EXCUSE FOR MURDER by Vanessa Westermann
From the blurb: Former bodyguard Gary Ferris has the perfect motive to kill—revenge for the murder of the woman he loved. Then he meets Kate Rowan, a bookstore owner who lives with her great aunt. Together they manage to find an attachment in the midst of blackmail, break-ins, and murder.
This is an interesting story. I can’t say I liked it, but… I couldn’t stop reading. Thus the “interesting”. Items that distracted me: It’s very British, including terminology, but the author uses those terms in such as way as to make it understandable even for a Yank. However, the sudden shifts in point of view were problematic for me. I really don’t like it when an author does that and this one did so—not often, but enough for it to be a challenge for me to keep reading. I will note that I’m not talking about the chapter shifts. Those are fine. I have no problems with shifts to a different POV from one chapter to the next. It’s the shifts within paragraphs or short scenes that distracted me. And yet, I kept reading.
Also, the writing itself was…different. And I will chalk that up to perhaps a difference between “British” writing and “American” writing. It was very choppy with more fragments than I’m used to. And yet… I kept reading.
I wasn’t enamored of the hero. He was more an anti-hero. He was definitely a broken hero. Without giving anything away, I’d like to have seen a different conclusion to what he did. For me, he was unlikeable and I couldn’t figure out why the heroine went with him. And yet…I kept reading.
I didn’t understand the whole bit with calling Great Aunt Roselyn Mrs. Marsh – especially when Kate stopped calling her great aunt Mrs. Marsh (even after the plausible explanation) and started calling her by her name (without any explanation as to why she did this). And yet… I kept reading.
The characters of Ian and Elaina were interesting, but I’m not sure why they were there. But I kept reading.
I loved the scene in the book with Romeo/Prince Charming/Mr.Darcy – that was amazing. So I kept reading.
So there it is. I can’t say I loved the book, and yet, the author drew me in to the point that I kept reading just to see what would happen.
Would I recommend this book? Maybe – with the caveat that it is different from most Americanized romantic suspense books. There’s no HEA ending, but a HFN (happy for now) is implied and acceptable. The writing is also different from what I’ve come to expect—not necessarily in a bad way, just different. It took me a while to really get into the story…and yet, I kept reading.
A HIGH-END FINISH (A Fixer-Upper Mystery) by Kate Carlisle
5 sparkles (actually, I’d give it more if I could!)
Wow. Just wow. I currently have a love/hate relationship with this author. I absolutely loved this book – so what do I hate? I kept telling myself I’d finish *this* chapter so I could go do the other things I had on my to-do list. That didn’t happen. I kept reading. And reading. Until I finished the book. I could not put it down. And I’m getting the rest of the books in the series as soon as I possibly can.
In this book, Shannon Hammer is a well-known contractor/carpenter in her small Northern California town of Lighthouse Cove. Her friend (hah!) sets her up with a blind date that turns out less than stellar. In fact, after the guy—Jerry Sexton—attacks her, she knees him where she can (misses the family jewels just by a bit, but got close enough to get away)—in front of most of the townspeople on the boardwalk above the beach where she and Jerry were. When Jerry is found a couple days later dead with her pink pipe wrench the murder weapon, Shannon is placed at the top of the police suspect list.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, several other things happen that not only keep Shannon at the top of the suspect list, but also put her in danger for her own life. It’s only through the intervention of the cute new police chief and a more-than-handsome crime writer that Shannon survives and helps bring the culprit to justice.
If you are a fan of cozy mysteries in small towns and with amateur sleuths, I definitely recommend this book.
And if you’ll forgive this short review—I’m off to get more of these books by Kate Carlisle. So much for my dishes/cleaning/work/anything else I might need to do.
TOXIC TOFFEE by Amanda Flowers
This is a cute cozy mystery but it didn’t draw me in as other cozies do. It’s not that there was anything wrong with it—because there wasn’t—it just fell a little flat for me. And that’s strictly on me.
The character of Bailey King works—she’s the granddaughter of an Amish woman who owns a candy store in the square of town. She also has a popular TV show about candy-making. She’s dating the local sheriff’s deputy, Aiden Brody, and is well-known and well-liked in town. Her grandmother is also well-liked but is Amish so doesn’t approve of everything Bailey (who’s not Amish) does. Bailey used to live in a small apartment above the candy store with her grandmother, but moved out so she could have a place of her own—one with electricity.
Some of the other characters are a little over the top. For instance, Aiden’s mother Juliet carries her pet pig everywhere and, even though Bailey and Aiden just started dating, she’s already planning their wedding. It was just a little too much for me. And the town “promoter” Margot—she’s a bit too much to take too.
The author seems to know the Amish culture pretty well, but she also gets a little repetitive with some things (like the no electricity thing). Living in an Amish community myself, I was able to chuckle at the realism she did put forth. Yes, there really can be “traffic jams” with buggies and cars. It happens often. So this was something well-done.
The murder of Stephen—an Amish rabbit farmer—was definitely different, which was a plus. As was the reason and the killer. Kudos to Ms. Flower for an interesting twist. And that’s all I’m going to say. No spoilers here. J
Overall, the story wasn’t bad. It was mostly enjoyable and had an interesting end, but it just didn’t keep me interested the whole way through. Still… I am definitely going to look for more from this author. She intrigued me enough to look for others by her.
PERIL IN PAPERBACK by Kate Carlisle
4 ½ sparklers
This is part of the “Bibliophile Mystery” series from Kate – and I loved it! The quirky characters, interesting setting, and attention to details had me laughing while keeping me reading to see what happens next.
Through her two best friends, main character, Brooklyn Wainwright, has been invited to the home of eccentric millionaire Grace—aunt of Suzie—for a week to celebrate Grace’s 50th birthday. Grace’s home is huge, secluded near Lake Tahoe—and surprisingly unique. Kind of like Hogwart’s from Harry Potter, Grace’s home includes walls that move, trapdoors, secret nooks and more. Brooklyn’s room is the “book room” – not the library. But it’s covered floor to ceiling (and even across the ceiling!) with books. It’s intimidating at first for Brooklyn, but she adapts.
There were two things that kept me from giving this a five sparkler review – the first is “who the heck is Gabriel?” This guy Gabriel shows up just after the murder and is obviously a very good friend of Brooklyn’s. So… I know him from other books, but if someone was reading this one first, they would have no clue who Gabriel is. A sentence or two is all that is needed to let the reader know who he is and what is relationship to Brooklyn is. Yes, we learn tidbits about him through the story, but knowing a little up front would be nice.
Second is that this is an obvious takeoff of Agatha Christie’s “Ten Little Indians” – it’s even referred to near the end of the story. We have a party of people gathered together in a remote home that has a lot of odd places, a storm (snow in this case) that keeps the police away and strands them in the house, the murder (of course), and multiple secrets—and not just in the house. Still, unlike Agatha, Kate kept me laughing. I enjoyed Agatha’s book a long time ago and there have been myriad takeoffs of it, but this one was a hoot. So… well done, Miss Carlisle.
I also loved the attention to detail about books. Being an old librarian who has spent some time repairing and restoring books, I loved the little things Kate put in about Brooklyn’s work. Also the information about the murder “weapon” was interesting and informative – and tied so well to the last line that I closed the cover laughing. Thank you for that as well!
Recommendations: If you like cozy mysteries with quirky characters, this is a definite yes… But… I suggest you start at the beginning of the series with “Homicide in Hardcover” so you know who’s who and how they all fit together. You can read them out of order, but you’ll miss the connections that make it all come together better.
A SPELL OF TROUBLE by Leighann Dobbs & Traci Douglass
3 ½ sparklers
This was a lighthearted, fun paranormal cozy mystery. Issy (Isolde) Quinn and her cousins are close so when one (or two) are on the suspect list for the murder of a nasty woman, they come together as a tight-knit family to help solve the mystery.
Fun things include the quirkiness of the cousins, the townspeople – most of whom are paranormals, including the sheriff’s deputy who just happens to be a werewolf. I loved that the witch’s familiars are not all cats – and not even all animals (one is a Venus flytrap!). And the introduction of the FBPI – the paranormal section of the FBI—is an interesting twist. I absolutely love Brimstone – a black cat who talks to them all, has quite a bit of power himself, but comes and goes as he pleases.
The mystery is a standard cozy mystery – nasty woman who has an issue with Issy is killed right in front of her store, making her the prime suspect. Of course she’s innocent, and it’s up to her and her cousins to figure out whodunnit and why she (and her cousin Gray) are being framed. The answer is satisfying with Issy being exonerated (come on, I’m not giving away anything here—the “sleuth” in a cozy mystery is always suspect, never the perp).
Problems: a little more editing for some spelling/grammar issues would help (trees have boughs not bows). Also a salamander is an amphibian not a reptile. While I enjoyed the story, these and other editorial issues were enough for me to not give it a higher grade.
Would I read more? Yes. I enjoyed it enough to look for more. Would I recommend it? Yes, to friends who enjoy paranormal light cozy mysteries – but with the caveat that there are issues with it. Still… it was a fun read during a storm afternoon.