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Death on a Summer Morning: an absolutely gripping cozy mystery novel

Death on a Summer Morning

by Betty Rowlands

Death on a Summer MorningPreviously published as Deadly Obsession by Severn House, this cozy mystery by Betty Rowlands is being published anew as Death on a Summer Morning by Bookouture as part of a thirteen book series centered around Sukey Reynolds, a Scene of Crime Officer responsible for photographing and collecting evidence at crime scenes. Sukey has a nose for detective work which often leads her into scenarios that she is not prepared for, much to the chagrin of her boyfriend DI Jim Castle.

In this case, Sukey arrives at the home of a somewhat elderly man who appears to have fallen down the stairs. Both the man’s younger fiancée and his estranged daughter are convinced there is more to the story, but are at odds with each other in every other way. Meanwhile a headless torso is found in a watery ditch, and the police have the unpleasant and difficult task of identifying the body.

The characters in this book include Fergus (Gus), Sukey’s amiable son who is ready to enter university. Caught in time between teenager and adult, he acts as a sounding board when Sukey needs a listening ear. The plot moves quickly; the setting is important to the plot and well described. I ended the book satisfied with the outcomes, but wanting to read more in this series.

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.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Mystery

Notes: Although this book is #6 in the Sukey Reynolds Mystery Series of 13 books and it is my first Betty Rowlands book, I had no problem jumping into the series and already have another waiting in my queue based on my enjoyment of this book.

Publication:   July 22, 2019—Bookouture

Memorable Lines:

A short time later, the garden was empty of birds. They had all taken fright at the high, thin scream of terror and the crash of broken crockery and glass that shattered the peace of the morning.

“My father’s death was no accident; he was murdered.” The blue eyes that had made such an impression on Dalia Chen blazed with an almost fanatical intensity.

“In the hope that Sabrina will stop tilting at windmills, I’ll do what I can to get her and Elspeth to talk to each other.”  …Fergus grinned. “I’d love to be a fly on the wall if those two ever get together. It’ll be the mother of all cat fights!”

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Cliff Hanger–plans that go awry

Cliff Hanger

by Mary Feliz

Cliff HangerAs Maggie McDonald and her family look forward to a working vacation at Monterey Bay, California, they could not imagine that it would turn into a nightmare. Sons David and Brian help rescue a crashed ultralight pilot, but their quick thinking and heroic actions could backfire in a legal maelstrom. 

In Mary Feliz’s Cliff Hanger, Maggie tries to protect her sons and accomplish her organizing job at the resort that hired her, but there are complications at every turn with farmers in conflict, possible drug running, and alien deportation. It’s hard to know who to trust so the family enlists the help of crime fighting friends from their hometown, Orchard View. Their pet golden retriever, Belle, and their friend Stephen’s service dog, Munchkin, a drooling mastiff, have large supporting roles and are a welcome addition to the character list.

I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Kensington Books (Lyrical Underground) for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Mystery

Notes:  1. #5 in the Maggie McDonald Mystery Series, but works as a standalone.

  2. Each chapter begins with a tip for vacationing families from Maggie’s organizing notebook. Many of the ideas are helpful for daily car use or for those who live on the beach.

  3. In addition to formal tips for making life easier, the author weaves handy ideas into the body of the story as well as showing how a family can respond to stresses in a healthy way.

Publication:   July 16, 2019—Lyrical Underground (Kensington Books)

Memorable Lines:

“The tricky part will be managing the news outlets and social media. Their attacks can be swifter, harsher, and more reactionary than the law. Lucky for you, we’ve just hired two people who are experts in that arena. We all need to become adept at fending off slings and arrows in cyberspace.”

I shuddered, both in fear of the tales I’d heard of exploding methamphetamine labs and in sympathy for the people for whom near-slavery in the United States meant a better life than staying in the countries in which they’d been born. My skin prickled as my thoughts traveled from the desperate to those who preyed upon them.

Max placed a plate of warm cookies on the table. The fragrance lured David from his room, and we had a moment of silent appreciation of the stress-busting properties of chocolate and refined carbohydrates.

Ripe for Vengeance–love for a pot-bellied pig

Ripe for Vengeance

by Wendy Tyson

Ripe for VengeanceMegan is a commercial organic gardener with an organic store and café in Winsome where it seems everybody has at least heard of everyone else. She has a handsome, charming boyfriend in Dr. Denver Finn, the local vet. When some of his friends come to town, however, it seems that a cloud of confusion and possibly evil has arrived with them as one of the group is murdered.

In Ripe for Vengeance, author Wendy Tyson has created yet another cozy mystery that is a page turner. The character of Dillon, a high IQ young man suffering from PTSD after witnessing family trauma, is an oxymoron. Is he a mild-mannered introvert as some believe or did he snap in response to an emotional trigger? This cozy is replete with twists and turns revolving around a special school for students like Dillon and drug trials for a startup pharmaceutical company. The introduction of a Pot-bellied pig into the story adds a little humor and softness. Tyson resolves the plot’s mysteries quite well, even picking up one tiny thread at the end that I had completely forgotten about. In doing so, she actually ties up three threads into a nice bow. As I finish each book in this series, I’m always looking forward to the next one.

I would like to extend my thanks to Edelweiss and to Henery Press for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Mystery

Notes:  #5 in the Greenhouse Mystery Series, but can be enjoyed as a standalone.

Publication:   July 16, 2019—Henery Press

Memorable Lines:

If hope were a season, it would be spring.

Despite working with the public at the café and farmers markets, and years of practicing law before that, she wasn’t particularly extroverted, and walking into a party that was already underway lived between root canal and scrubbing toilets on her favorites list.

“Rough neighborhood. Kid born there is already a few football fields behind their peers in the game of life.”

Killer in the Carriage House–saving a village

Killer in the Carriage House

Killer in the Carriage House

Lisbeth invites her friend Kate to Asheboro to try to save the town. The only industry, a shovel factory, has long since closed its doors. Kate’s only work experience has been in managing large hotels, but she thinks she could possibly turn the town into a replica of a Victorian village. The source of the idea is the Victorian mansion left to the town by the deceased factory owner.

There are many unanswered questions involved in this project. Kate needs to get the townspeople, especially the shopkeepers, on board. She needs to research the history of the period and develop resources to help put the plan into action. Meanwhile, she finds herself in the middle of a murder mystery when she discovers the body of a young man she encountered the day before at the library. She also wants to learn more about the factory owner and his connections with both Clara Barton and Thomas Edison.

The storyline of Killer in the Carriage House is acceptable, but I had a hard time with the main character Kate. She isn’t believable to me as a project manager. She wastes a lot of time just waiting for things to happen and then complains that there are so many things to do. She also says that in her former position she was told what she had to do and was never in charge of initiating events. That does not seem in line with a hotel manager’s responsibilities. Her personal relationships are weak and not well defined.

The plot is better developed than the characters. I liked the plot resolution but was surprised that certain characters’ presence in town hadn’t been questioned earlier.

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.

Rating: 3/5

Category: Mystery

Notes: Although this book is the second book in the Victorian Village Mysteries, it is the first book in the series for me. It was easy to pick up with the plot and characters and move into the tale.

Publication:  July 9, 2019—St. Martin’s Press

Memorable Lines:

But to have someone—or in this case, something like an entire town—hand the whole unwieldy mess to me and say, “Here, make this nice, and don’t spend too much money”? I was left floundering.

“So, are you going to tell me about this new murder?” 

“You mean the body in the library? Sounds like an Agatha Christie novel, but unfortunately it’s true.”

“You got tossed into a difficult situation, one that kept changing about every ten minutes. You did the best you could.”

A House Divided–historical tale by a Lincoln scholar

A House Divided

by Jonathan F. Putnam

A House DividedI was surprised to find myself trudging through A House Divided by Jonathan F. Putnam, an author with an outstanding legal and historical background. This is the fourth book in this series, but I did not feel that my not having read the previous books was a hindrance. There just seemed to be a disjoint between the history and fiction of the tale. None of the characters were fleshed out with emotion for me, and so I did not identify with any of them. I really wanted to like this book, but it was difficult when  the characters’ motives were rarely disclosed. Lincoln and his friend Speed are competitors for the affections of Mary Todd, but even Mary’s character holds no depth.

The mystery was interesting and based somewhat on history, although the narrator Speed, a major actor in the story, was actually not a part of the real events of the crime and trial. Perhaps that alteration of the facts added to the difficulty of creating an interesting work of historical fiction. Perhaps the problem lies in timidity in assigning thoughts and feelings to major historical figures. Authors may find that easier to do when the main character is either a minor figure on the historical stage or the creation by the author of a composite character based on what a person in that role at that time of history would be like. 

I did appreciate the author’s efforts to include the plight of Irish workers and their families. They were caught in the middle of a web of corruption and greed on the part of politicians and bankers. Another positive of the book is the writer’s style which is appropriate to the period.

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.

Rating: 3/5

Category: Historical Fiction, Mystery

Notes: #4 in the Lincoln and Speed Mystery Series 

Publication:   July 9, 2019—Crooked Lane Books

Memorable Lines:

The Globe…As a feeding station for hungry village residents or residence for travelers, it was inferior in every respect to the sparkling new American House. Its only advantage at this point was familiarity, like a pair of shoes that slipped on easily despite worn-away soles.

Springfield…But citizens hoping to find entertainment that did not arrive in a bottle or cask were destined to be disappointed. Except when the circuit court was in session to adjudicate the county’s legal disputes. Then, the entire human condition, comedy and tragedy alike, was on display and free for all to watch.

Every turn in the road, every little rise of the prairie, might reveal a clutch of deadly and determined men, ready to hazard their own lives and reckless to mine.

A Highlander Walks Into a Bar–romance in Highland, Georgia

A Highlander Walks Into a Bar

by Laura Trentham

A Highlander Walks Into a BarWhen your mom goes to Scotland and brings home a surprise, you don’t expect it to be a handsome Highlander…or that a younger version will follow. These two men, Gareth and Alasdair, along with Rose and Izzy (Isabel) are the main characters in A Highlander Walks Into a Bar by Laura Trentham. The setting is not Cairndow, home of the Blackmoor family, but Highland, Georgia, where Rose and Izzy try to keep their beloved Stonehaven, as well as the entire town of Highland, solvent through a Scottish festival every summer. The secrets the characters keep to themselves, even as their intimacy as couples grows, make for some uncomfortable and humorous situations. They all wonder, as does the reader, how there can ever be a positive outcome for the two couples given their respective responsibilities an ocean away from each other. There is resolution, of course, but the book ends with an epilogue that can obviously segue into another tale involving the same characters and a new one. Lots of potential fun lies in store for readers of this new series. 

I would like to extend my thanks to Carla (https://carlalovestoread.wordpress.com) and to St. Martin’s Paperbacks for gifting me with this book. I won this book in an online raffle after reading Carla’s review which you can enjoy yourself on her blog.

Rating: 4/5

Category: Romance

Notes: A Highlander Walks Into a Bar is a good, fun romance. If you don’t want the details of a hot and heavy passionate union, skip chapter 11. Omitting these details will not in any way hinder your enjoyment or understanding of this book.

Publication:   July 30, 2019—St. Martin’s Paperbacks

Memorable Lines:

More bagpipes joined in, and the march they played made her heart ache with an emotion she couldn’t categorize. Sometimes it was better to feel than to understand.

“Are you and Gareth in love?” The question popped out, and not for the first time Izzy wished she had a speedbump between her brain and her mouth.

“It is easier to tally who is right and wrong and hang onto your resentment and turn your back, because forgiveness and understanding are difficult. What you should tally are laughs and kisses and how many times you are made a better person because of your connection.”

A Plain Vanilla Murder–not so plain after all

A Plain Vanilla Murder

by Susan Wittig Albert

A Plain Vanilla MurderIt is not like me to jump into a cozy mystery series on the twenty-seventh book. Who engages in that kind of craziness anyway? Amazingly, I didn’t find the lapse in character background knowledge to be a problem. While A Plain Vanilla Murder is not the best cozy I’ve ever read, it was very good. I particularly liked all the information provided on vanilla. I had no idea vanilla is part of an orchid plant or that there is such an active trade in exotic orchid plants.

This mystery has lots of threads. A professor is killed, and lots of enemies emerge as possible suspects. Could the motive be professional rivalry, dalliances or orchid laundering? All are sufficient to motivate an attacker, but what really happened? The main character, China Bayles, is a former criminal lawyer. This is one of the few crimes that land on her doorstep that leads her to become involved professionally.

Always interested in learning new things about a subject, I enjoyed the many quotes about vanilla that are included in the chapters as well as in the addendum. Susan Wittig Albert is a prolific writer as evidenced by this series that focuses on herbs and spices as well as the three other series she writes in addition to a number of independent books. I look forward to reading more by this author.

I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Persevero Press for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 4/5

Category: Mystery, Women’s Fiction

Notes: #27 in the China Bayles Mystery Series, but works well as a standalone.

Publication:   June 4, 2019— Persevero Press

Memorable Lines:

Campus politics are labyrinthine. A dispute involving faculty can be vicious, even if it looks like nothing more than a petty turf war over a few inconsequential footnotes in an insignificant publication. It can also be something bigger, dirtier, and deeper.

My first thought was that he was the last person on earth to do such a thing. But of course you can never tell what devils live in somebody’s private hell.

Any time you have to sit down with a cop, you immediately remember the times you’ve jaywalked or parked where you shouldn’t or failed to return a library book and now have a humongous unpaid fine. It’s stupid, of course, but it’s a universal paranoia, and completely understandable.

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