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Candy Slain Murder–lots of food and mystery

Candy Slain Murder

by Maddie Day

December arrives to provide a Christmassy backdrop to this cozy mystery set in the little town of South Lick, Indiana, where Robbie Jordan owns a breakfast and lunch restaurant that also features vintage cookware for sale. There is a cast of regulars making their appearance in Maddie Day’s Candy Slain Murder, but remain fearless, dear Reader, as the author’s talents include bringing the reader quickly on board with Robbie’s friends and family.

This mystery includes a cold case and a new murder case that appear to be connected. There are a number of characters with potential motives that Robbie has to sort through as she informally interviews various persons of interest as well as those whose knowledge might contribute to her investigations.

Another thread in the story is the surprise appearance of the mysterious half-brother of one of Robbie’s employees. Protective of those she loves, Robbie is concerned that this man’s claims might not be legitimate. Even his religious ties as a former Quaker turned Muslim are odd. They lead to a discussion of inclusiveness versus discrimination in South Lick with some B&B guests. This thread is interesting, but seems an afterthought as the couple appears only once besides meal times.

I enjoyed the book as I tried to discover the murderer or murderers along with Robbie. There were plenty of distractions to keep me guessing, although I had in mind a resolution that I wanted to see. Happily, I was correct, but it was fun to follow the characters to a satisfactory conclusion.

I would like to extend my thanks to Netgalley and to Kensington Books for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Mystery

Notes:  1. #8 in the Country Store Mysteries Series. I have read, out of order, a few of the books in this series. All, including Candy Slain Murder, have worked well as standalones.

  2. Six recipes are included in the book and several are holiday appropriate.

  3. I am puzzled by Robbie’s critical comment on the celebration of Christmas in the little town. They were having a Christmas tree lighting and a visit by Santa. Robbie said of the mayor, “Corrine could have slanted the celebration in a more secular direction.” As a Christian, I think the celebration was very secular. There was no nativity scene and no mention of the birth of Jesus, which is the origin of Christmas celebrations. 

Publication:   September 29, 2020—Kensington

Memorable Lines:

“You’re more full of questions than one of them robots on the phone. At least you ain’t asking me to press one for this and two for that.”

Buck poured on the syrup and tore into his cranberry pancakes so fast I thought they would catch on fire.

“It’s one of them, you know, fifty percent of one and a dozen of the other.” My jaw dropped at his fractured metaphor.

Consider This, Señora–newcomers in a Mexican village

Consider This, Señora

by Harriet Doerr

If asked what a particular country is like, the wise respondent does not declare that the whole country is mono-anything. Cities are different from villages, mountains from deserts, and north from south. At the same time, there are cultural aspects that transcend regional differences. This is certainly true of Mexico as I can attest to after being privileged to live in that country for seven years. In Harriet Doerr’s Consider This, Señora, she captures the essence of rural Mexico, the things that make me nod and smile as I remember the way it is.

Here are things from the book that are, for the most part, neither bad nor good, just typically Mexican. I list them out, but in the book, they are integrated into the story:

  • Workmen that don’t finish jobs. 
  • Problems solved by greasing the wheels with a little cash. 
  • Extended family relationships determining work placements.
  • Government promises for utilities only partially or never fulfilled. 
  • Accidents caused by disregard for traffic “suggestion” signs.
  • Brilliantly colored fiestas.
  • Beautiful vistas.
  • No understanding of queues, but extreme politeness one on one.
  • Animals roaming free.
  • Very young mothers.
  • Children working from a young age.
  • Beautiful babies with wide brown eyes and shy smiles.
  • The staple food—taco.
  • Popsicles sold from street carts.

The story is the tale of Sue Ames and Bud Loomis, strangers trying to escape their pasts who meet by chance in a property agent’s office in Mexico and buy a large plot of land to both live on and subdivide. Other people join them. Fran is a travel author. Fran’s mother, Ursula, is widowed and in her late 70’s. Don Enrique, the original owner of the land by ancestry finds a home there. Later the mysterious musician Herr Otto is added to the  community. There are locals that make an essential supporting cast including Patricio, gardener and so much more for the Norte Americanos and Father Miguel who is a friend to all. 

Consider This, Señora is a gem, a tale of travelers to another culture and how their lives intersect with the land and the lives of the locals. Although not a romance, love is a major theme in the book. Even though she is divorced, Sue has never fallen out of love with her husband. Fran, divorced twice, continues to search for an exciting but long-lasting love with men she meets in her travels. Ursula, widowed, is still in love with the husband she spent her life with. She, especially, contemplates what it means to love. 

Sue is altruistic and generous, helping those in need. She takes on Altagracia, her part time maid from a young age, providing needed dental work and opportunities to bathe. As the girl emerges from her cocoon at age sixteen, Altagracia is described as one who “merely by her passage, turned the heads of men.” When Altagracia takes on a different domestic position, she supplies Sue with three of her little cousins who are starving. Sue opens her heart to them and provides help to the family.

Harriet Doerr’s descriptions are so well-written that the background comes to life enhancing the story without belaboring the details. She also includes a sprinkling of Spanish words adding to the authentic flavor, but most can be understood from context. The book flows, and I read it in one day wanting to know more and more about the characters and the little village of Lomas de Amapolas.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Fiction

Publication:  August 15, 1994—Harcourt (A Harvest Book)

Memorable Lines:

Today had stopped happening. Already it had consigned its events to memory. Touched by the evening chill, she sat outside until dark, wrapped in the mists of her brief, uncertain future and the brilliant patchwork of her never-ending past.

The Mexican sky was excessive too, she believed. Wider than others, it stretched over people who appeared no fonder of life than death, as they darted on bicycles between trailer trucks and buses and hurried hand in hand, whole families strong, across divided freeways.

On all sides of the dead man and the mourners, headstones tilted into weeds. Two cypress trees shaded the crisscrossing tracks of animals, both tame and wild. A crumbling adobe wall bounded the pantéon  and protected the dead.

The Wind in the Willows–endearing children’s classic for all ages

The Wind in the Willows

by Kenneth Grahame

My book club decided to read The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame, a children’s classic written in the early 1900’s by a British author. As a retired educator, I felt like this is one of those books I should have read. I downloaded a free copy from Project Gutenberg. It has some illustrations, but I found I would have liked more. The other readers in my group had various ways of reading this classic tale. One had a particularly beautifully illustrated version that I adore. Another friend listened to an audio version recorded on YouTube. At least one group member expressed disappointment that her version was an adaptation. Regardless of the version, however, we all enjoyed reading it.

The Wind in the Willows is a charming tale of a water rat, mole, badger, otter, and toad. With its exquisite language and intricate descriptions, this book is perfect for reading as a family. It was a staple in A.A. Milne’s family which I consider high praise indeed. The pace moves back and forth between quiet reflection and raucous adventure. The tale has themes of home, friendship and satisfaction. The characters move through life together with commonalities and differences that serve to make the story even more interesting.

Toad is a favorite character with moods ranging from manic to subdued and intentions to reform that often seem genuine, but sometimes are quite insincere. He has a passion for the latest and greatest “toys” and is always on the lookout for a new adventure. Fortunately, he has supportive friends who will do anything for him. He is a source of humor for the reader.

If you have never read The Wind in the Willows, I strongly recommend it, especially if you enjoy beautiful word pictures. I like researching unfamiliar words, but those who don’t will have no problems as the general meaning of words of a botanic nature, Britishisms, and words no longer in common usage are certainly easily understood from context. The Wind in the Willows is a great read, and I am so glad to have added it as part my literary heritage.

Rating: 4/5

Category: Children’s Fiction

Notes: Ages 7-14

Publication: 1908 & 1913—Charles Scribner’s Sons

Memorable Lines:

Toad talked big about all he was going to do in the days to come, while stars grew fuller and larger all around them, and a yellow moon, appearing suddenly and silently from nowhere in particular, came to keep them company and listen to their talk.

He increased his pace, and as the car devoured the street and leapt forth on the high road through the open country, he was only conscious that he was Toad once more, Toad at his best and highest, Toad the terror, the traffic-queller, the Lord of the lone trail, before whom all must give way or be smitten into nothingness and everlasting night.

Toad sat up slowly and dried his eyes. Secrets had an immense attraction for him, because he never could keep one, and he enjoyed the sort of unhallowed thrill he experienced when he went and told another animal, after having faithfully promised not to.

Mistletoe, Moussaka, and Murder–deadly Polar Bear Plunge

Mistletoe, Moussaka, and Murder

by Tina Kashian

As usual, even though this is the fifth book in the Kitchen Kebab Series, author Tina Kashian does a brilliant job of bringing the reader up to date on the characters in the series at the same time that they are taking the Polar Bear Plunge in the little New Jersey town of Ocean Crest. The title of the book, Mistletoe, Moussaka, and Murder, encapsulates the plot—but in reverse order. The frigid swim Lucy Barbarian and her sidekick Katie Watson undertake for charity results, unfortunately, in a drowning, but not one of accidental causes. This death (MURDER) and Lucy’s investigation to clear her friend Susan, a local baker, takes top billing in the story. Mediterranean cuisine (MOUSSAKA) comes in second as Lucy manages her parents’ restaurant; the book features enticing descriptions of food. Romance is also in the air (MISTLETOE) as Lucy plans her wedding to head chef Azad.

This cozy mystery will have you turning pages quickly as Lucy discovers that everyone who had opportunity to commit this crime also had motive. Secrets abound. Some of Lucy’s inquiries edge along dangerous lines, and the local detective discourages her “interference.” Gadoo, Lucy’s adopted cat, and Cupid, her landlady’s shih tzu, learn to tolerate each other, and Gadoo has an exciting major role in this book.

The setting is an ocean beach town that depends for its economic survival on three months of summer tourist trade. This book, however, has a cold Christmas backdrop with a nice mix of mystery and holiday fun.

I would like to extend my thanks to Netgalley and to Kensington Books 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 Kitchen Kebab Mystery Series, but works quite well as a standalone.

2. A recipe section is included with 4 recipes ranging from easy to more complicated.

3. There was a small scene where a character did a coffee reading similar to someone telling the future from tea leaves. I do not read books with a paranormal focus, but this coffee reading was an extremely minor part of the book and would not dissuade me from reading more in the series.

Publication:  September 29, 2020—Kensington Books

Memorable Lines:

It was isolated in the evening, and a cold breeze blew from the ocean. A full moon hung like a Roman coin in the velvet sky and illuminated the ocean in an iridescent glow. The sounds of the waves were constant and calming.

The streetlamp cast long shadows on the snow-covered street. Coming from a cheerful and noisy crowd in the park, it was eerily quiet.

The mesmerizing pull of the ocean was Mother Nature’s way of clearing her thoughts.

A Dog’s Perfect Christmas–meeting life’s challenges

A Dog’s Perfect Christmas

by W. Bruce Cameron

I have discovered an author I was unfamiliar with, but now I want to read more of his works. W. Bruce Cameron specializes in dog/people stories and knows how to combine some humor with tough reality. His A Dog’s Perfect Christmas could be labeled as a “feel-good Christmas story,” but it is so much more.

This is the tale of an imperfect family doing their best to survive the everyday struggles and big disasters. By the conclusion of this book, you’ll like all of the characters. Hunter loves his family but devotes himself to his job. His wife Juliana gave up her job to raise their children but struggles with inner conflict about her role. Ello (short for Eloise) is their thirteen year old daughter caught in a hurricane of hormones and middle school relationships. Her two younger brothers are three year old twins who excel in wreaking havoc and rely on Ello to be their translator to the rest of the world. Grandpa Sander is a widower whose beloved wife passed away from cancer. Her care drained their financial resources requiring Sander to move in with his son’s family. Completing the family is Sander’s faithful canine retainer Winstead. 

I devote so much of my review to the characters because the characters and how they interact with each other and meet life’s challenges is the focus of A Dog’s Perfect Christmas. Everyone in this book has specific needs to be met. The family undergoes a major crisis that could have thrown them all into despair, but as they work to stand strong together through the big problem confronting them, there is healing and a renewing of family and spirit.

Dogs play a part in this story that dog lovers will enjoy, especially the thinking process in Winstead’s brain as he reacts to his “daddy” Sander’s moods and actions. If only there were a puppy, this would be a perfect Christmas story…

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

Rating: 5/5

Category: General Fiction

Publication:   October 10, 2020—Forge

Memorable Lines:

He saw the tidal forces of rage fighting for control of Ello’s face. As a little girl, she had been able to charm her grandfather into reading her one book after another after another. Now, though, she’d morphed into this hideously unpleasant creature, spitting acidic venom.

Winstead and Ruby had already incorporated park visits into their bill of rights, and now gazed at Sander expectantly whenever he stood up out of his chair. They tracked him with eager intensity as he fetched their leashes, then bounded joyfully into the minivan, wrestling all the way to the park.

When Hunter released her, Ruby darted off with crazed energy, racing around the room in celebration, because puppies know how to celebrate everything.

A Very Merry Match–romance with the kindergarten teacher

A Very Merry Match

by Melinda Curtis

What a book I chose to read on Christmas week! Melinda Curtis’ A Very Merry Match is a romance that involves serious threads. Mary Margaret, widowed last year at Christmas, is trying to survive the memories of the season. As a Kindergarten teacher with a strong sense of honor, she has been very disciplined with her finances to try to repay her husband’s debt accrued through shopping therapy at the end of his life. Just when the mountain of debts have been conquered, two unsavory characters show up on her doorstep wanting an obscene amount of money.

You’ll like Mary Margaret. She’s a dedicated and loving teacher always wanting to do the right thing. Sadly, she carries around the physical and emotional scars of childhood abuse. Kevin, the mayor of the little town of Sunshine, has a son in Mary Margaret’s class. His initial dilemma is a decision regarding a development project that has potential positive and negative impacts on the town and is thus quite controversial. He also develops an interest in his son’s teacher.  Along the way we meet Barb, Kevin’s ex-wife, and Edith, Mary Margaret’s supportive and fun-loving grandmother along with the local Widow’s Club whose members are always interested in matching up lonely hearts.

Mary Margaret has, out of financial necessity and a love of dance, a second career as a burlesque dancer, and Kevin is being considered for political office at the state level. Although they are attracted to each other, a serious relationship seems unlikely. Christmas is the backdrop for the fun, romance, and conflict that permeate the plot. This is a clean romance you can enjoy at Christmas…or any time of the year!

I would like to extend my thanks to NetGalley and to Forever (Grand Central Publishing) for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Romance

Notes: #2 in the Sunshine Valley Series, but I had not read the first book in the series and had no problem jumping right into this book.

Publication:   September 29, 2020—Forever (Grand Central Publishing)

Memorable Lines:

Dancing always loosened up the stress, shook it off, made her feel free, moved her beyond her worries and fears. How could this be wrong?

“I’ll tell you a secret I learned growing up.” Her smile was tentative, as if her secret was sad. “Preacher’s kid wisdom. There’s always someone in a worse situation than you are.”

Doubt crept between his shoulders on spiked cleats.

Dash Away All–dangerous drama on the movie set

Dash Away All

by Christina Freeburn

I was close to frustration with Merry Winters, the main character in Dash Away All by Christina Freeman, when she became frustrated with herself. Finally! Merry has been contracted to create craft items for the backdrop of a Christmas movie featuring a crafter. The job becomes bigger than originally planned when a shed holding many Christmas decorations burns down and Merry is expected to create or round up from the tiny town of Carol Lake, Indiana, the necessary items to fill out the various scenes. For someone so overwhelmingly concerned about the quantity of crafts she is supposed to make, Merry spends a lot of time going down rabbit holes. Some of the trails she follows are legitimate ones to pursue a criminal, but others are self-indulgent like her visit to a toy store. Sometimes she is just plain nosy and involves herself in things that are truly none of her business.

This Christmas movie is being filmed in a hot and humid July, so if you are looking for a Christmassy read, this is not for you. If you want a cozy mystery with red herrings, a plot with twists and turns, some danger, and a tiny splash of romance, you would probably enjoy Dash Away All. An aging and domineering Christmas movie star is making a comeback at the same time she is trying to resolve some personal issues from her past. They happen to coincide with Merry’s current crisis in terms of family. Merry’s long distance business partner Bright is somewhat helpful, but it seems we will never meet her as she, for family reasons, is not able to join Merry in her time of need. I, unfortunately, felt little fondness for the characters in this mystery, and that hampered my enjoyment of the book. Even the role of Ebenezer the Guinea pig seemed contrived.

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

Rating: 3/5

Category: Mystery

Notes: #3 in the Merry and Bright Handcrafted Mystery Series

Publication:   July 7, 2020—Henery Press

Memorable Lines:

“Luna’s three loves in life are acting, trouble, and men, and which takes the top spot changes from day to day.”

A woman who loved to feel needed and felt lost when those who had needed her most—children and mom—either no longer did as they’re venturing out on their own, or because they couldn’t remember her.

It was a simple solution. Why hadn’t I thought of it? I knew exactly why I hadn’t; complicating matters was becoming a new hobby. I was turning back into a teenage girl and morphing everything into a drama of the century.

Marshmallow Malice–wedding complications

Marshmallow Malice

by Amanda Flower

From a chunk of burnt hair to drunken accusations to murder on the doorstep of the church, disasters just keep happening on Juliet Brody’s wedding day, and she is depending on her “possible” future daughter-in-law, Bailey, to help her out. Bailey is a chocolatier who is working in her grandmother’s candy shop in the Amish/Englisch town of Harvest. She is also dating Juliet’s son, Sheriff Deputy Aiden Brody.

Amanda Flower’s Marshmallow Malice is a fun cozy mystery with new problems arising from all directions as Bailey is encouraged by locals to help solve the murder case and act as a go-between for the Amish with the Englisch law enforcement. The humor comes into play with Jethro, Juliet’s adored and adorable polka-dotted pig that gets into lots of mischief. There is also light-hearted teasing between Bailey and her visiting New York friend Cass. At times the plot turns to danger as Bailey advances on moonshiners in Harvest Woods. Serious themes take the forefront with alcoholism, secrets from the past, and hints of domestic violence.

Marshmallow Malice is filled with likable characters. Bailey’s grandmother Clara whom she calls Maami is Amish to her roots and in her everyday living. Although she follows her bishop’s rulings precisely, she is practical and accepting of Bailey’s activities as an Englischer. Cousin Charlotte works with Bailey in the shop, and her life gives the reader insight into the dilemma of the young Amish as they decide whether to join the church or not. Shunning is also explored as the method the Amish use to try to get a member to abandon sin. Flower’s depiction of characters from both cultures is fair in that criminals and those with personal problems are drawn from both Amish and Englisch societies. This is a cozy mystery series with an Englisch main character; it is not an Amish romance. As such, it adds both humor and complications to what might be the basis for a typical Amish story. Don’t label this story as a sweet Amish tale. It is not dark, but it does have depth. It is well-written and leaves me eager for more in the series.

I would like to extend my thanks to Netgalley and to Kensington Books 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 Amish Candy Shop Mystery Series. The author throws you right into the storyline, so it would probably be best (and also a delight) to read the first books in sequence.

2. Recipe included for Charlotte’s Easy Marshmallow Sticks

Publication:   May 26, 2020—Kensington Books

Memorable Lines:

“She looks like a cotton candy machine exploded, doesn’t she?”…”Well…” Aiden trailed off as if he was dumbstruck by my appearance. Then he said, “It’s the kind of outfit that makes you believe there just might be unicorns out there.”

“The celebration will be a hit,” I said. “I know it will be,” Margot said. “I won’t allow anything less.” With that, she patted her curls and bustled out the door.

“The Amish look down on pride, but at the heart of it, we are a very proud culture. Our pride doesn’t come from material things. We take pride in how gut we are.”

Christmas at Carly’s Cupcakes–Christmas wedding

Christmas at Carly’s Cupcakes

by Jessica Redland

A sweet holiday tale with some sibling troubles, an upcoming wedding, PTSD, and friends who could be so much more. Those are the threads found in Christmas at Carly’s Cupcakes by Jessica Redland, Carly started a cupcake business four years ago. Her much younger sister Bethany has been working for her, but she is klutzy and prone to mistakes that are costly. Carly and Bethany are both wondering if the cupcake shop is a good place for Bethany, but Carly is driven to take care of her sister who is also second-guessing her upcoming marriage. Meanwhile, Carly starts to realize that her very long-term best friend, Liam, on a tour in Afghanistan, is possibly the love she has been denying herself.

There are several unexpected twists as the countdown to the wedding and Christmas draw closer. You’ll enjoy watching the tangled threads unravel as you read this charming story and root for the likable characters to solve their problems.

I would like to extend my thanks to NetGalley and to Boldwood Books for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 4/5

Category: General Fiction (Adult), Women’s Fiction

Publication:   August 13, 2020—Boldwood Books

Memorable Lines:

And there it was—the exact moment I realised I’d been in love with my best friend for years. Nobody else I’d met had held my interest because Liam already held my heart and I’d never even realised it.

As I stepped out of the front door, I inhaled the delicious aroma of chimney smoke. I loved that smell. There was something about real fires that was so intrinsically Christmassy. I paused for a moment to look up at the white lights strung between the shops, like stars in the inky sky. It was the beautiful simplicity that made them so enchanting to look at.

I felt a pang of guilt again that I’d worked beside her for months and had been too busy to notice when the laughter had ceased until it became too late. 

The Study of Secrets–literary mystery

The Study of Secrets

by Cynthia Kuhn

Lila Maclean has devoted her professional career as an English professor to the study of the mysteries of a practically unknown author, Isabella Dare. Taking a sabbatical to finish the books she is writing and with high hopes of achieving tenure, Lila is staying in the guest cottage of the revered author who is known to her childhood chums as Bibi. As Lila’s time in Larkston draws to an end, a murder occurs and Bibi and her friends are implicated in the crime, especially as their past secrets unravel along with the disappearance of an early unpublished manuscript. A cold case is also woven into the current story.

Lila, a likable character, is called on to help discover the identity of the murderer. Although she irritates the local detective with her inquiries and suggestions, she does not step over any legal lines. As she works on the case, several of her friends from her college arrive as well as some surprise visitors. She also finds herself caught between the presidents of two colleges who both want to purchase Bibi’s property. Lila handles everything that arises with aplomb. She even conquers one tricky situation successfully with her “stone-cold teacher stare.”

If you like mysteries, education, and all things bookish, I think you’ll enjoy Cynthia Kuhn’s The Study of Secrets. Although it is not a holiday themed book, it focuses on an annual Christmas event so there are references to the large Victorian house beautifully decorated and set in a backdrop of snow.

I would like to extend my thanks to Edelweiss and 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 Lila Maclean Academic Mystery Series, but works as a standalone. As the setting is not at Lila’s university, most of the characters are new to the reader anyway. Any crossover characters are introduced and integrated quite well.

Publication:   May 26, 2020—Henery Press

Memorable Lines:

“I enjoy learning new things.”  “I do too. Especially when it involves reading. There is nothing like being plunged into unexpected action, thrilled by a beautiful sentence, or confronted by a new idea that changes your understanding of the the world.”

“…snow was nature’s way of decorating for the season.”

Perhaps it wasn’t that she was uncommonly capable of handling problems. Perhaps she was just gifted at seeming as though they didn’t bother her.”

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