An Ale of Two Cities
by Sarah Fox
I found some relief from the pandemic news in An Ale of Two Cities by Sarah Fox. It is a fun, serious, puzzling cozy mystery with some action and excitement included. Although setting and atmosphere usually take a backseat to plot and characters in this kind of mystery, all of the elements are important here. The bookish setting is the Inkwell, Sadie’s pub decked out with bookshelves, literary decor, and special cozy rooms such as the one dedicated to Agatha Christie. Special literary-themed drinks are offered and, with two chefs, food has been added to the menu. Sadie has organized genre book clubs that meet monthly as well. All of this takes place in Vermont where our Tennessean main character has to adapt to the snow and cold weather.
The deadly mischief begins at the Winter Carnival’s Ice Sculpting Competition. Mel, one of Sadie’s employees, is competing and discovers a minor crime in the theft of her tools; but the plot turns deadly when Freddy, an unpleasant former denizen of the tourist town, is found dead in the snow. The evidence initially points to Mel, but there are lots of people with motivations to cut Freddy’s life short. Sadie investigates hoping to find the murderer thus clearing Mel’s name. In addition to the trauma of discovering dead bodies, Sadie has to deal with her growing attraction to Grayson who owns a local brewery. Winter Carnival appeals to her competitive nature as she organizes a hockey team representing her pub in ugly, mustard-yellow sweaters and learns how to snowshoe in preparation for the big race.
I highly recommend An Ale of Two Cities for its humor, plot, and all-around good reading fun. If you love books, then you’ll probably give this mystery bonus points for its bookish nature.
I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Kensington Books for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
1. #2 in the Literary Pub Mystery Series, but could be read as a standalone.
2. Recipes are included for some cocktails as well as Paradise Lox.
Publication: November 26, 2019—Kensington Books
When my cat wanted his breakfast, he wasn’t about to let anything get in his way, especially not five more minutes of heavenly slumber for his human servant.
I had to take a long, hot shower and drink another cup of steaming coffee before I could declare myself completely thawed out. Once I no longer felt like a close cousin of one of the ice sculptures out on the village green, I headed downstairs to the Inkwell to get ready for the workday.
Spreading rumors was her superpower. It didn’t matter if they were true or not. As soon as Gretchen got hold of some tasty tidbit of fact or fiction, there was no stopping its spread through town.
My Mother’s Silence
by Lauren Westwood
I find genres and categories useful up to a point. When it comes to Lauren Westwood’s My Mother’s Silence, the designator “Women’s Fiction” seems to fail. It is definitely fiction, but I think a lot of men would like it too. The subtitle is A Gripping Page-Turner Full of Twists and Family Secrets. I usually associate “gripping” in this context with a thriller, a genre which doesn’t usually attract me. I am happy to report that “gripping” in this case could be defined as a plot that draws you in more and more tightly as you progress. It is full of secrets, life altering secrets—bombshells that explode after lying dormant for fifteen years.
Skye Turner leaves the little Scottish town of Eilean Shiel to fulfill her dream of making it big as a songwriter and musician in America. She carries a heavy weight, however, as her twin sister Ginny has passed away, and it is presumed that she slipped off a cliff and drowned. Skye returns home at the urging of her brother Bill. She hopes to be able to work things out with her mum and her brother, but she arrives to find her mother in mental disarray. Things don’t add up about her sister’s disappearance or the car accident Skye was in on that same evening.
Skye is not a perfect woman, but it seems she has made a lot of decisions based on the lies was fed. She tries to uncover and untangle the fabrications and piece them together with the help of a former DCI who is renting a cottage from her mother.
This book has a Christmas setting that is incidental to the plot but provides a reason for the family to gather. Westwood weaves a web with her amazing storytelling skills. The reader needs to discover what happened to Ginny as much as Skye does. Some romance is woven into the story as old boyfriends and new are included as important threads. There are several mysteries to be solved and parts of the book can claim to be called police procedural. Without a doubt, this book is a page-turner that made me glad I escaped from my comfort zone to find a new happy place.
I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Bookouture for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Category: Women’s Fiction, General Fiction (Adult)
Notes: Sprinkling of vulgar language
Publication: November 11, 2019—Bookouture
…the land doesn’t care that I once went away, or that I’ve come back again. My life is small, my little dramas and struggles unimportant against the vastness of sea and sky.
But there’s something about this land that gets in your blood. Even when I thought I might never come back, I still felt the pull of this place. No matter where I was in the world, if I listened hard enough, I could hear the whisper of home.
I can still remember what it’s like to be in a teenage strop. That feeling of isolation—that everyone else in the entire world is against you and complete morons to boot. But it’s only worth keeping up as long as there’s an audience.
A Highlander in a Pickup
by Laura Trentham
If you’re looking for a clean, heartwarming romance, A Highlander in a Pickup is not for you. The main character, Anna Maitland, owner of a dance studio in Highland, Georgia, is a lithe spitfire desiring to prove her competence. She has been left in charge of the Highland Festival by her friend Izzy who has moved to Scotland. She unsuccessfully fights falling in lust with Iain Connors, sent from Stonehaven Castle in Scotland to help Anna. Much of the story revolves around their competitiveness and sexual attraction and is not even PG ratable.
There are many positives in this book. Laura Trentham has good plot ideas and weaves in complications skillfully. She also has a way with words that results in setting descriptions that paint great visuals for the reader. She adds humor to the romance that helps the book not get bogged down in the repeated sexual encounters. She has created interesting characters including minor ones that flesh out the tale. Trentham includes just enough of the character from the first book in the Highland, Georgia Novels to provide a sturdy frame for the new romance without making the new dependent on the old. As in the first book, the author has shown that she excels in providing in the epilogue a hook to entice readers to accompany a minor character from the current story into a new tale.
I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to St. Martin’s Press for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Notes: 1. Everyone approaches individual books with different expectations. For some a romance without steamy sexual encounters is a disappointment. Others appreciate a romance for meaningful conflict, likable characters, and a satisfactory resolution. I tried to present in this review enough information for readers to make an appropriate choice, but I also tried to rate this book based on the author’s skills as a wordsmith and success with plot, characters, and setting rather than my personal taste.
2. #2 in the Highland, Georgia Novels. OK as a standalone.
3. The first Highland, Georgia Novel had one chapter that was offensive to me and could easily have been omitted without hurting the story. I was hoping that the sequel novel would not follow that pattern. It didn’t. Unfortunately, it sprinkled bedroom scenes throughout the book making it difficult for readers to just skip over the part they did not want to read.
Publication: February 25, 2020—St. Martin’s Press
While Anna was generally good at navigating the teenage minefield, Gabby’s problem was more like an atomic bomb with an unseen trip wire.
The next day, all of Anna’s nerve endings vibrated like she’d plugged into an electrical source. Even her skin was supersensitive, her T-shirt more like a Brillo Pad than cotton. Her stomach felt like it was hosting a battle of the bands. Her mind struggled through a bog, thoughts falling away to be lost in black water, and her usual high energy dipped to an all-time low. Had she even gotten four hours of sleep the night before?
His laugh was like hot chocolate on a cold day or being covered in wriggling puppies or a BLT made with sun-warmed freshly picked tomatoes. In other words, it made her feel good and might qualify as one of her favorite things.
Murder with Cherry Tarts
by Karen Rose Smith
What a delightful cozy mystery! I enjoyed Murder with Cherry Tarts by Karen Rose Smith from beginning to end. It has interesting characters including Daisy Swanson, a widow and co-owner of Daisy’s Tea Garden with her Aunt Iris. Daisy is at the center of the book’s many threads. There is, of course, a murder mystery which Daisy tries not to get involved in, but her kind nature won’t allow her to stand by while an innocent man is railroaded by a detective with a chip on his shoulder. That chip is connected to Daisy’s boyfriend Jonas, a former detective. Other tensions include a homeless man and his daughter and an elderly antique shop owner possibly being cheated by a family member. Also, Daisy has continuing relationship issues with her mother, preparations for the upcoming wedding of her pregnant daughter, and the struggles of her youngest daughter, who is adopted, to connect with her biological mother. It is a busy story!
The setting is Lancaster County in Pennsylvania. Although Daisy is not Amish, there are a sprinkling of references to horse and buggy transport and other Amish customs as Willow Creek is a seasonal tourist town.
Despite the various focuses on relationships, the mystery is still key. There are several suspects with plausible motives, but when the murderer is revealed in a scene replete with danger, the surprise ending is stunning.
The author follows up with an epilogue that provides a promisingly happy conclusion to the relationship threads as well as the murder investigation. There are, however, still developments to look forward to in the next cozy in this series.
I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Kensington Books for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Notes: 1. #4 in the Daisy’s Tea Garden Mystery Series, but works very well as a standalone. The characters’ backgrounds are skillfully woven into the first chapter.
2. The book concludes with recipes, including one for Daisy’s famous cherry tarts that everyone raves about.
Publication: November 26, 2019—Kensington Books
“Sharing tea with a friend is a calming experience. I think it has to do with just taking time out of your day to talk and to share. It doesn’t matter the type of tea or if you use sugar or honey or milk. It’s just the experience of sipping it that counts.”
That was exactly what grief felt like, a hole that could never be filled up.
The photographs would never reveal the tension that always bubbled up within her family. But that was the point of happy photos, wasn’t it? To remember the good times and cherish them.
A Son for the Mountain Firefighter
by Melinda Curtis
Honesty first! I know very little about firefighting. I had read one novel about a wildfire prior to reading A Son for the Mountain Firefighter. In traveling, I have seen groups of enthusiastic firefighters stopping for lunch on their way to fire camps. Of course, there is the occasional TV show with burning buildings, but they are pretty far removed from mountain firefighting. Melinda Curtis’ Mountain Firefighter Series contains an interesting blend of romance and firefighter procedural.
Handsome Jackson Garrett, nicknamed “Golden” because of his luck, has demons to face: his status as a husband and father and his fear of fire after losing a rookie firefighter on his crew. Curtis takes us behind the scenes to see how hard the firefighting life is on the family back home and the difficulties of fighting fires fueled by dry foliage and fickle winds. We experience the firefighters’ camaraderie as well as the isolating necessity to show no weakness.
Although I was at times uncomfortable reading about fires, I learned a lot about the subject, which I consider a real plus. I enjoyed the characters who were realistically portrayed as simultaneously weak and strong. It was a fairly quick read and so interesting that I didn’t want to put it down. Now I’m looking forward to reading Twins for the Mountain Firefighter that focuses on Jackson’s best friend Logan, AKA Tin Man, a name given him by a “particularly disappointed woman” who “publicly proclaimed Logan to be lacking a heart.”
I would like to extend my thanks to Melinda Curtis for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Category: Romance, Action
Notes: #1 in the Mountain Firefighter Series—clean and heartwarming
Publication: February 24, 2020—Purple Papaya Press
“Love is about feeling closer to your partner than to anyone else on the planet. Feeling so close that you know what it is they need. And needing to be with them more than you need to breathe air.”
Oh, his anger. It tested her strength like a gust of cold, winter wind.
Not the honest sweat from clearing brush, but the cowardly sweat that clung to the body as tightly as the fingers of death.
Memories and Murder
by Lynn Cahoon
The name of the series, Tourist Trap Mysteries, doesn’t begin to describe this bookish set adequately. Memories and Murder is the latest installment in which Jill Gardner, owner of Coffee, Books and More in little South Cove, drinks coffee, eats sweet treats, and reads her way through relationship and murder issues. There are lots of threads to this plot. Aunt Jackie has called off her engagement to Harrold and gone silent. Deek is a new barista in the coffee shop; he is more perceptive than psychic, despite his heritage. He has great ideas for book clubs and follows through with implementation. Jill juggles investigating a murder and a scam and finds herself in deadly trouble.
The story is told from Jill’s point of view, and first person narration works well here. The pace moves along snappily in this cozy mystery. Don’t be deterred by Memories and Murder being the tenth book in the sequence. Author Lynn Cahoon is a master at bringing readers up to speed on characters and background. In the first chapter you will learn almost everything you need to know to enjoy this book while the storyline gets underway. There is perhaps a little too much description of who ate what, when, and where, but other than feeling like I needed to accompany Jill and her dog Emma on their beach runs, those details were not truly excessive. In fact, I’m looking forward to joining the South Cove family of friends in their next adventure.
I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Lyrical Underground (Kensington Press) for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Notes: #10 in The Tourist Trap Mystery Series, but works well as a standalone.
Publication: November 12, 2019— Lyrical Underground (Kensington Press)
Fighting with my boyfriend had not been one of the things on my to-do list today, but you had to make room for impromptu items.
Operation Harrold Wins Jackie Back was going to work. It had to work. All the best books and movies had a happily ever after. Real life should too.
…he’d assured me that the sun would turn to ice before he left me for her.
by Margaret Mizushima
I am fairly easy going, taking life’s interruptions as they come. I found my limits, however, as I read Tracking Game by Margaret Mizushima. I resented every disruption because I just wanted to keep reading.
Mizushima is a master of K-9 police procedurals. Her character creations are outstanding. They include Deputy Mattie Cobb who has numerous personal issues stemming from her childhood, but is courageous and determined. Robo, her K-9 officer, is an amazing, skilled, and intelligent dog. With Mattie’s talents in training and reading her dog and Robo’s abilities to interpret Mattie’s signals and branch out into fields he has not been trained in, they make an outstanding team. Also important in the story is Cole Waker, the local vet, who loves Mattie but lets their relationship develop slowly to meet her emotional needs as well as those of his two daughters whom he is raising alone.
The story starts gently at a dance at the Timber Creek community center but literally explodes with action and doesn’t slow down as they discover a victim in the explosion, but also find the death was actually caused by a gunshot. As the sheriffs try to figure out that complication, they peel back layers of the onion only to find lots of people with motivations. What could cause seemingly nice people to commit horrific acts? Possibilities include drugs, affairs, and blackmail, but the situation here is even more complicated. Mattie and Robo are in potentially deadly situations as they engage in various searches. Another search dog with a different specialty is brought in to help.
On a personal level, Mattie feels it is important to share her past with Cole, wondering how it will affect their relationship. Cole, meanwhile, is struggling to protect his daughters as they try to reengage with their mother who has mental issues.
The plot is complicated with some surprising twists that will keep you alternating holding your breath and turning those pages. As a police procedural, it is top notch. The reveal of the murderer and the motivation is a surprise and occurs in a very memorable scene. As the book draws to a close, Mattie receives information of a personal nature that leads the reader hanging in anticipation of the next book in the series.
I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Crooked Lane Books for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Notes: 1. I am a Basset hound, ears hanging down, sort of girl, but even I come away from this book just loving and admiring the sharp, but fun, and supportive Robo.
2. #5 in the Timber Creek K-9 Mystery Series, this book would probably be more fun if read in order in the series; but the action is most important, and the author brings the reader up to speed on any necessary personal details.
Publication: November 12, 2019—Crooked Lane Books
She wanted to move forward in her relationship with Cole, but her childhood loomed between them like the two-way mirror Sheriff McCoy had recently installed in one of their interrogation rooms at the station. She could see Cole clearly, but she and her baggage remained hidden from him.
Robo edged closer, hovering at her left heel, growling as he searched the area with his eyes as well as his nose. A chill ran down her spine, and Mattie drew her Glock from its holster. She had no idea what they were facing, but she understood her partner’s warning.
Life seemed so simple for Robo: rest and relax when you can, take pleasure in a job well done. He didn’t lie awake at night wondering if he’d done the right thing. She loved him for it.
by Denise Hunter
Do you believe in coincidence? The novel Lake Season written by Denise Hunter might convince you that God can work even the smallest details together to achieve His good plan. At the time certain events happen, there may be no clear vision of how it could even begin to be used for good. Then comes to mind the phrase “but God,” as God turns what appears to be a series of coincidences into something amazing.
Molly and her siblings, Levi and Grace, are devastated by the death of their parents in a car wreck, but they make sacrifices to fulfill their parents’ dream of converting their house into an inn. Just as the inn is almost set to open, Adam, who writes romances under a pen name, arrives in small Bluebell, North Carolina, looking for inspiration for his new book. The discovery of a long lost letter unites Adam and Molly in a search to find the young couple separated by the Vietnam War and family disapproval.
Molly and Adam are not weak but are vulnerable main characters with deep-seated emotional pains left-over from their pasts. Both are very likable, but it would take a miracle for their hearts to heal enough to allow them to leave the hurts of the past behind them. As the tale progresses, they touch the lives of others through their kindness and research in ways that have to be more than a coincidence.
Can a publicity shy novelist and a young innkeeper with trust issues find happiness and a way forward together? As author Denise Hunter’s newest fan, I found tears filling my eyes as I approached the end of the book and hoped for the best.
I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Thomas Nelson for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Category: Christian, Romance
Notes: I was delighted to discover that this is the first book of the Bluebell Romance Series. Denise Hunter has written over 30 books, two of which have been made, not surprisingly, into Hallmark movies.
Publication: November 12, 2019—Thomas Nelson
“You’ve been very welcoming, and you have a beautiful face—I mean, place. You have a beautiful place.” Why did he have to be such an imbecile with women?
All those times he’d disappointed his dad rose to the surface like buoys, bringing a load of hurt and a feeling of unworthiness that went core deep.
“…I’ve never had God’s work in my life be so…blatant. I mean, I’ve seen Him work in my life so many times. But this particular situation is so convoluted and layered, it would be impossible not to see it as His handiwork.”
A Deathly Silence
by Jane Isaac
Detective Chief Inspector Helen Lavery has been recuperating from work related injuries when she gets called back by the horrific death of a young woman. Helen, a widow and the mother of two boys, was fast-tracked into her current position and leads a team of investigators in Jane Isaac’s A Deathly Silence which is a police procedural on steroids.
This mystery details the dangerous investigation that leads Helen and her team to examine evidence, interview suspects and witnesses multiple times, attend autopsies, engage in stake-outs, create timelines, and gather to brainstorm theories. The clues become even more muddled as a leak appears and Helen and her team wonder who they can trust. One death seems to lead to more, and even the gang that previously sidelined Helen comes under suspicion. A Deathly Silence is a top-notch mystery and police procedural. Helen is a likable main character, but the plot is the show stopper in this book that will set you up to want to read more in this series. The murder is a surprise as is the motive.
I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Legend Press for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Category: Mystery, General Fiction (Adult)
Notes: As #3 in the the DCI Helen Lavery Novel Series, this book can most definitely work as a standalone; I was not aware it was part of a series until I prepared to write this review.
Publication: October 15, 2019—Legend Press
He was in a tailspin, a swirling vortex of emotions, his heart fighting to burst out of his chest.
Teamwork existed on trust and the very idea that one of her people had betrayed that trust was like a fishbone lodged in the back of her throat.
There were always more casualties than the dead in a murder investigation.
Notting Hill in the Snow
by Jules Wake
Looking for a romance on the clean side? Enjoy Britishisms? Does a story in which the main characters put the well-being of a sweet, people-pleasing seven year old ahead of their own happiness appeal to you? How about a Christmas in Notting Hill with snow and hot chocolate? If you find these enticing, then Jules Wakes’ Notting Hill in the Snow is a perfect read for you.
Viola, who plays the viola for the London Metropolitan Opera Company, is such a likable character, always trying to help others. Unfortunately, she had a mixed childhood with parents who just weren’t very supportive. When she is asked to help with a local school’s nativity play, she meets little Gracie who has a loving, successful, and quite handsome dad. Viola empathizes with Gracie whose mother is removed both physically and emotionally.
Viola has lots of balancing acts to maintain as she tries to keep her family happy, contain her growing desire for Gracie’s dad, put on a stellar Christmas show, and complete her obligations to herself and the opera company as a professional musician.
This is the kind of book that you don’t want to end because you are enjoying it so much. At the same time, you long for that final, feel-good closure—if, in fact, it comes for Gracie, her dad, and Viola.
I find most Christmas romances I read to be good, but not excellent—usually too sweet. Notting Hill in the Snow is a step above, however. I admit I am partial to stories that include children; but, for that reason, as well as the theatre and music backdrop, and interesting characters, this book is a Christmas romance I enjoyed and highly recommend.
I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to HarperCollins (One More Chapter) for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Publication: October 11, 2019—One More Chapter (HarperCollins Publishers)
“Good. Morning. Miss Smith,” intoned the class in a deadened robotic rhythm that threatened to suck all of the life out of me. Honestly, it was like facing a crowd of Dementors.
Lifting her chin, she regarded me with, from a seven-year-old, terrifying lofty superiority. “You can never see Frozen too many times.”
Kensington Park Road was almost bereft of traffic, the few cars driving at a snail’s pace in the heavy slush and the gorgeous stylish shops were for once sluggish and quiet, some still closed, as if the snow had spread its calming influence and decreed that today was worth taking things slow and easy.
Elaine held all the cards and I was clueless as to what the game was.