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Divide and Concord–filming at the winery

Divide and Concord

by J.C. Eaton

Norrie Ellington is a screenwriter who finds herself in charge of the family winery in the absence of her sister. Norrie’s producer decides that Norrie’s Two Witches Winery in New York is the perfect site for the filming of a small part of her current project. It will be for just a “few” days and “only” involves two crowd attracting stars, a camera crew, a diva director and her perfectionist assistant. Unfortunately this filming is scheduled to take place during the Seneca Lake Wine Trail’s Wine and Cheese Festival and occurs  in the middle of a massive spring snow storm. Norrie has had run-ins before with the local sheriff, thought of by her as Grizzly Gary, so she is not happy to be the first on the scene of what could only be a murder. Norrie has a lot of balls to keep in the air while she tries to discover the identity of a murderer who seems intent on framing Norrie for the crime.

As usual with a J.C. Eaton book, in Divide and Concord I felt like I was in the middle of the dilemma and had to look outside a few times to make sure it wasn’t snowing. This writing duo is that good. Meanwhile, despite the seriousness of the subject, there are humorous moments and the plot moves quickly with the spotlight on various characters who might have wanted to kill the director. Actually, the woman was so unpleasant it was hard to find anyone who didn’t have a motive. Norrie and willing friends work together to trap the criminal in an Agatha Christie type of setup with a surprise ending.

I would like to extend my thanks to NetGalley and to Beyond the Page Publishing 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 Wine Trail Mysteries, but is excellent as a standalone.

  2. The name Two Witches Winery should not put off those who do not like to read works that include the occult. The name is purported to have historical significance. There are two minor characters with mystical practices but our heroine rolls her eyes at them and manages to use them in the setup to discover the murderer.

Publication:   April 30, 2020—Beyond the Page Publishing

Memorable Lines:

“It’s not an impending disaster,” I replied. “An inconvenience perhaps. Or maybe even a nuisance, but it’s not going to be a disaster.” Who the heck am I kidding?

Then, the unspeakable happened. Debora Dabrowski made her entrance into the Two Witches tasting room like Cruella de Vil. The only thing missing was a cigarette holder. She was tall with an angular face and layered black hair with one white streak that framed the left side of her face. Her tortoiseshell wingtip glasses, complete with jeweled rims, completed the look. 

Priscilla’s kind of high strung and one Kleenex away from a full-blown sobfest.

Murder in the Wine Country–plant smuggling mystery

Murder in the Wine Country

by Janet Finsilver

Redwood Cove is an isolated community in northern California. The wealthy Michael Corrigan, owner of Resorts International, is not the stereotypical rich businessman with cutthroat motives and actions. He is boss to Scott, manager of Redwood Cove Community Center, and to Kelly, manager of Redwood Cove Bed and Breakfast. Always looking for ways to help others, especially veterans, Michael is hosting an exclusive event for other wealthy philanthropists with the goal of providing a model of community support that he hopes will inspire them to implement similar programs in their own communities. 

Problems have arisen in the little town with the presence of plant poachers who are digging up a certain plant that is popular in China and smuggling them out of the country. In the midst of this event, wardens warn visiting chefs, who are encouraged to forage for edible plants in the area to showcase in their culinary creations, of potential danger from these smugglers. When there is a death, a robbery, and three missing people, Kelly and the Silver Sentinels, a group of seniors who use their skills to help solve crimes, gather at Kelly’s B&B and get to work.

Other mainstay characters are involved in Janet Finsilver’s Murder in the Wine Country. My favorites are Tommy, a sweet boy with Asperger’s, and his Basset hound Fred. Deputy Stanton enjoys spending time with Tommy working on projects and with Tommy’s mom Helen, a widow who works at the inn. There is certainly potential for romance between them in future books. Scott and Kelly also have romantic inclinations, but the author doesn’t rush the characters into relationships. Another interesting character is Julie, a visiting chef who has a service dog Rex, who is not only a faithful companion, but can warn her of an impending epileptic seizure. He plays an important role in the story.

The plot moves along at a nice pace. Kelly’s investigations are successful to the point of putting her in danger of losing her life. The Silver Sentinels are ready to help at a moment’s notice as are other community members who aren’t even involved. The setting is great, but it’s the people who make Redwood Cove the kind of place you might want to live.

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

Rating: 5/5

Category: Mystery

Notes: #6 in the Kelly Jackson Mystery Series, but as the author provides good support for readers who are just beginning the series, I have no hesitation in recommending it as a standalone.

Publication:   April 28, 2020— Lyrical Underground (Kensington Press)

Memorable Lines:

I had my own rescue bag of sorts. Years ago, I had vowed I would always stop to help a loose animal that was in danger, even if it meant missing an important appointment or an airplane flight. This was after watching car after car whiz by a shaking dog stranded on an island of a busy street, no one stopping to help.

Mary handed me a plate with a chocolate brownie studded with chunks of chocolate. Coffee and chocolate, my two favorites. I might recover after all.

For a split second, I considered not saying anything regarding the incident but immediately rejected the thought. He’d asked about the rest of the afternoon. Omitting was a form of lying, and I wouldn’t go there.

Botched Butterscotch–discord in Harvest, Ohio

Botched Butterscotch

by Amanda Flower

If you’re looking for a novella that also…

  • is a cozy mystery
  • doesn’t involve murder
  • combines Amish and Englisch
  • focuses on women who need a stepping stone in addiction recovery
  • throws in some red herrings despite its brevity
  • affords an excellent distraction from current problems
  • and is all-round good fun,

then read Botched Butterscotch where you find some of your favorite characters from Amanda Flower’s Amish Candy Shop Mystery Series. There’s Bailey King, a chocolatier known locally as a crime solver, Juliet, Bailey’s probable future mother-in-law, Juliet’s potbellied pig Jethro, and Margot, the local super community organizer. You will meet Bailey’s parents visiting from New England and attend a fund-raising Mother’s Day tea. Mostly, you will have fun solving the mystery and enjoying the humor in this great little novella. 

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: Almost too short to be a standalone because so much of the pleasure is derived from character interaction

Publication:   April 28, 2020—Kensington Books

Memorable Lines:

“Busy hands keep worries at bay—that’s something I tell the women at my farm. I believe that’s why the farm’s rehabilitation model works so well. When you are busy caring for something else, you are able to hold back self-defeating thoughts. It’s not foolproof, but it helps.”

Sundays had become my days to rest and recharge, and I was surprised to find that I was getting the same amount of work done every week regardless. Maybe there was something to this whole resting thing. I wished that I had known about it sooner—I might have been happier in New York if I had.

Of course, as a chocolatier, I couldn’t understand anyone not liking chocolate. Chocolate was one of the five major food groups—or at least it would have been if I had been in charge of making the chart.

Deep Fried Revenge–crispy, fried corndogs

Deep Fried Revenge

by Lynn Cahoon

If you are one of the many people who like to watch cooking competitions or attend state fairs, you will want to read Deep Fried Revenge. Author Lynn Cahoon will take you on trips to Boise, Idaho, where Angie and her crew from the County Seat restaurant in River View vie in the Restaurant Wars held at the state fair giving them an opportunity to show off their culinary creativity. Unfortunately, the competition draws more than crowds. The chef most likely to win is murdered on the first day. Is this an effort to assure someone else of the winning spot or is there a different motive?

Just as interesting to me as the main plot is another part of the story: the mystery behind a young runaway’s appearance in River View. The unfortunate girl is named Bleak; she diligently tries to hide both her past in a cult and her current location. The sheriff and his wife provide her with a home and security while Angie supplies her with a job and the team at the County Seat teach Bleak, who is a hard worker, the basics of the restaurant business.

Another recurrent and fun character is the great big, teddy bear of a dog, Dom. He is a large part of Angie’s life as well as a major actor in the story. Restauranteurs and carnival workers fill out the rest of the tale which I highly recommend for its mystery and characters.

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: #4 in the Farm-to-Fork Mystery Series, but works well as a standalone.

Publication:   April 7, 2020—Kensington Books

Memorable Lines:

“Just because you’re faster than me doesn’t mean you’re the boss of me.” She rubbed his head and realized, that yes, the dog had become her boss over the last few months. And she didn’t care one iota.

Dom glanced up from his bed, wondering if her words meant something to him, like “walk” or “eat this.” When he decided that no, his master was just talking to herself again, he laid his head back down for his morning nap.

Dom still sat right at the door. Waiting. He knew her moods. He knew her words. He listened when she griped about work. He was the perfect boyfriend, except for the fact they were of two different species.

A Fatal Yarn–detailed descriptions

A Fatal Yarn

by Peggy Ehrhart

I have read four out of five of the books in the Knit & Nibble Mystery Series by Peggy Ehrhart, so I obviously enjoy the series as a whole. All of the books are more calming than usual for a cozy mystery series, rather like knitting is a tranquil activity for many. In A Fatal Yarn, however, the author’s greatest asset, descriptive writing, becomes a flaw in her writing. At first I was just amazed at passage after passage detailing settings and meals. Then I realized that the food descriptions especially had become redundant. I don’t really need repeated retellings of the main character’s preparations of black coffee and multigrain toast to understand that she only has coffee and toast for breakfast every day.

The story revolves around Pamela, a widow who edits articles for a fiber craft magazine, and her friend and neighbor Bettina, a writer for the local weekly paper. In this case, they are trying to prove that Roland, a member of their knitting group, did not murder the mayor. Before they can accomplish that task, they discover that an elderly woman in town did not die of natural causes. Pamela and Bettina follow clues by trailing suspects, interviewing those with connections to the victims, and occasionally putting themselves in harm’s way. The plot was good, the characters quite likable, and the descriptions well executed. I enjoyed it because I like the series, but I would not recommend this book to introduce someone to the series. I wondered, sadly, if this talented author was trying to fill out a word count. Regardless, I still want to read the next book in the Knit & Nibble 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: 3/5

Category: Mystery

Notes: 1.  #5 in the Knit & Nibble Mystery Series which does not have to be read in order.

  2. Includes directions for a knitted cover for a throw pillow and a recipe for “Lemon Yogurt Easter Cake with Cream Cheese Icing.”

Publication:   March 31, 2020—Kensington Books

Memorable Lines:

Bettina was distracted then by the milkshakes. They arrived in tall glasses filmed with condensation and crowned with a froth of bubbles, accented by straws inserted at a jaunty angle. She pulled her milkshake toward her and sampled it with an eager sip.

Such a human impulse, she reflected, to express oneself with whatever art materials were at hand. And women, whose world was so much narrower in some cultures, had found in crafts like needlework or weaving or quilting or knitting vehicles for their artistry.

As they watched, a rooster appeared in the doorway, a magnificent creature with glossy feathers that shaded from fiery orange on his neck and chest to the iridescent blue-black plumes that formed his exuberant tail. He strutted forth, turning his head this way and that as if to display the proud serrations of his bright red comb and his quivering wattles.

James J. Cudney’s books on sale!!! Cozy mysteries and a thriller.

I have enjoyed all the cozy mysteries in Cudney’s Braxton Campus Mystery Series and want to share information about the great prices available for a limited time for different books in the series. To see his blog post about this sale and his works, follow this link. (There is also a thriller on sale, but I have not read it.)

Enjoy!!!

Shake Down–reality TV is so fake!

Shake Down

by Kendel Lynn

Shake DownElliott Lisbon is the director of the billion-dollar Ballantyne Foundation and is also a very frustrated PI-in-training. There are plenty of cases to work on, but her boyfriend Lieutenant Ransom and other law enforcement officers do not share much information with her. So, Elliot enlists her best friend Sid, and the pair hone their investigative skills in the complicated search for Daphne who has a reputation for going missing and following her whims without warning. Would she do that with her friend’s wedding less than a week away?

In Shake Down by Kendel Lynn, lots of plot lines intersect. The Ballantyne Foundation is sponsoring a BBQ fundraiser honoring families who host the homeless. We are also introduced to Daphne who disappears shortly before she is to be maid of honor for her best friend Juliette. The girls met on a reality TV show where they were competing for an eligible bachelor. Much of the plot is centered around the town’s search for Daphne. That part of the book drags just a bit, but the pace and action pick up later and culminate in a conclusion I could never have predicted.

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: 4/5

Category: Mystery

Notes: #5 in the Elliott Lisbon Mystery Series but OK as a standalone as characters from previous books in the series are clearly reintroduced.

Publication:   March 17, 2020—Henery Press

Memorable Lines:

She stopped as if her soles had been superglued to the asphalt. She seemed to be experiencing the second half of fight or flight. Freeze or faint.

“He’s being all cagey and friendly. Helpful in a distinctly not very helpful way.”

The shot was beyond loud. Like saying a hurricane was breezy or a ghost pepper had a little kick.

My Fair Latte–coffee, wine, and classic flicks

My Fair Latte

by Vickie Fee

My Fair LatteHere’s an opportunity to get in on the ground floor of a new cozy mystery series by an established author, Vickie Fee. In My Fair Latte, Halley Greer inherits an old theater from an uncle she barely knew. Immediately, the reason for this bequest to Halley arises as a background puzzle, but the real mystery centers around vandalism and murder in the theater that  Halley is working hard to resurrect as a business that combines her two passions—old movies and coffee.

The residents of the little tourist town of Utopia Springs, Arkansas, welcome Halley and encourage her in her new business. She has to clean up both the theater and the upstairs apartment, quite an undertaking as her uncle was a hoarder. Favorite characters are George and Trudy, local artists who take her under their wing, and Kendra who owns the escape room business across the street. There are several romantic interests as well.

I enjoyed meeting the residents of Utopia Springs and watching Halley develop her creative ideas on a shoe string budget. It was great to witness her new friends pitching in to help, building community around her. As the police seem to suspect Halley, she and Kendra investigate to try to put the focus on other possibilities. I found myself doing that myself, but missed the mark until the end. Eartha Kitty, another inheritance from Uncle Leon, has an important role in the story. I am looking forward to the next book in the series, but hoping that I won’t gain weight just reading about the huge, fresh cinnamon rolls that are a staple in Halley’s breakfast routine.

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: 4/5

Category: Mystery

Notes: #1 in the Café Cinema Mystery Series

Publication:   March 3, 2020—Henery Press

Memorable Lines:

While it may have been a glamorous leading lady in its prime, the Star Movie Palace was now a faded beauty whose slip was showing from beneath its tattered couture.

Their fanny packs and I-heart-Utopia-Springs t-shirts were like tattooing tourist on their foreheads.

“I dearly love George, but this morning he started tap dancing on my last nerve before I’d even had a cup of coffee.”

Death by Chocolate Frosted Doughnut–explosive action

Death by Chocolate Frosted Doughnut

by Sarah Graves

Death by Chocolate Frosted DoughnutJake and Ellie continue to make delightful chocolate goodies at The Chocolate Moose when they are not being shot at, run off the road, or drowned. In Sarah Graves’ Death by Chocolate Frosted Doughnut, there is more than enough action, some strong female characters you will want to see survive, lots of suspects, and some confusing motives. I could relate more to the chocolate than the many nautical references which are, in fact,  extremely important to the plot.

Jake lives in an old home bursting at the seams with extended family. Her sidekick Ellie is instrumental and often the leader in Jake’s dangerous investigations. As you read about the remote town of Eastport, Maine, where Jake put down roots twenty years before, you can understand why she decided to stay. As autumn closes in, the town is hosting the Eastport Pirate Festival which draws a huge tourist trade and, in this case, provides the perfect atmosphere for explosive action.

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.This is #3 in the Death by Chocolate Mystery Series, but the author does an excellent job of supporting the reader so that this book can be a standalone.

  2. The book concludes with a recipe for Double-Chocolate Ginger Cookies, featuring chocolate chips, white chocolate, and crystallized ginger.

Publication:   February 25, 2020—Kensington Books

Memorable Lines:

His face, furrowed and grooved by age and the outdoors, was like something you might find carved into an old tree trunk, and his grip had felt as tough as bark.

I took a gulp of my hot drink and felt the brandy molecules percolating through my collapsed brain cells, reviving them. Or at least making them dance around very happily indeed, which was enough for me at the moment.

She was an overbearing old fussbudget, our Bella, but she would have stepped in front of a freight train for any one of us.

Dead Ringer–yellow carnation

Dead Ringer

by Annelise Ryan

Dead RingerMattie Winston is overcome with personal problems as well as a case with far reaching consequences.  She spends her days off on a murder investigation that might prove the innocence of a man in jail for life as a convicted serial killer. In a strange twist of affairs, Mattie finds herself at odds with her husband Hurley, a homicide detective. She is fulfilling a gift to him but has misgivings about the promised present and her abilities as a mother. Hurley is jealous and suspicious. How did the loving couple get so out of sorts with each other?

In Dead Ringer by Annelise Ryan, Mattie takes the investigation of the serial murders to nearby Eau Claire, ruffling the professional feathers of the coroner and the district attorney there. Both are up for re-election, and neither is happy with the new forensic pathology program being developed in their county. Meanwhile, the morgue in Sorenson holds a druggie killed in the same manner and following the same profile as those killed years ago. It is up to Mattie to determine if there is a copycat killer on the loose or if the wrong man is behind bars.

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: #11 in the Mattie Winston Mystery Series, but works as a standalone.

Publication:   February 25, 2020—Kensington Books

Memorable Lines:

My son is a constant ball of energy and inquisitiveness, a cross between two of his favorite cartoon characters: the Tasmanian Devil and Curious George.

My mother wasn’t one for praise or approval. The woman is better at finding faults than a seismologist.

“Do tell,” Brenda says, feigning high interest. She not only bats her eyelashes, she manages to look alluring doing it. I’m impressed, because whenever I try to do it, I look like I’ve got a bad nervous twitch.

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