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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.

One Little Lie–dangerous thriller

One Little Lie

by Colleen Coble

One Little LieI didn’t know quite what to expect from Colleen Coble’s new series Pelican Harbor, so I dove into the first book wondering how the author would combine some mystery, a little thriller, and a bit of clean romance while incorporating a Christian viewpoint. Not that it couldn’t be done or hasn’t been done, but it is not my typical cozy mystery read. As it turns out, One Little Lie is a page turner. Its plot and characters have depth, and the threads occur on many levels. The reader has to wonder if they are parallel or will possibly collide making this a very intricate mystery indeed. 

Jane Hardy is chosen to be the new Pelican Harbor Chief of Police after her father resigns. What was behind his leaving the force? Why is Reid Dixon, who makes documentaries, having conversations with Jane’s father? Reid has been granted approval by the mayor to follow Jane around. Besides the pressure of extra scrutiny on her first days as Police Chief, why does Reid’s presence make her uncomfortable? Several murders and kidnappings later, events ramp up to a high danger level for Jane and her K-9 officer and companion Parker. Who can Jane trust?

The prologue of this book is set fifteen years earlier during an attack on a cult. That event and the years prior cast a shadow and create devastating secrets for the characters in this book. As for the Christian viewpoint, some of the characters in the book trust in God and have a relationship with Him. Those characters have challenges in which they rely on God; other characters come to see that believing in God could impact their lives and choices in a positive way as they struggle to get past the lies others have told them. This book provides closure for many threads, but I feel there is more story to be told in Pelican Harbor, Alabama. I’m looking forward to the publication of Strands of Truth, the next book in the series, in September 2020.

I received a complimentary copy of this book. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Mystery, Romance, Christian

Notes: 1. #1 in the Pelican Harbor Series

2. Discussion questions are included at the end of the book.

Publication:   March 3, 2020—Thomas Nelson

Memorable Lines:

Jane had no idea how much he was going to mess with her life. It had been a long time coming Retribution was an exciting word, one he’d rolled around and around in his head for years. It would be a freight train coming for the Hardys at full speed. None of them would understand his purpose until it was too late.

But if Olivia could face the horror of her future, surely Jane could face the past that couldn’t reach out and hurt her any longer.

She teetered on high heels and wore tight-fitting jeans and a top that showed off her curves. False advertising. A cute figure was never a substitute for a beautiful spirit.

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.”

The Crow’s Call–the taming of a crow

The Crow’s Call

by Wanda E. Brunstetter

The Crow's CallI like Wanda E. Brunstetter’s foray into mystery with The Crow’s Call  which begins the Amish Greenhouse Mystery Series. It is a spinoff from The Prayer Jars trilogy, but that association does not impact the reader’s enjoyment of this new series. Having read the trilogy, I did enjoy the  pleasant surprise of encountering a few familiar characters.

The Crow’s Call begins with a family tragedy that will forever affect the King family. Woven into that background are mysterious occurrences which damage the Kings’ greenhouse and livelihoods. Amy, frequently the focus of the narration, tries to bear the burdens of maintaining her family both emotionally and financially, but the job is really too big for one young lady.

With interesting Amish characters who work at their relationship with God and others, this book includes the characters’ thoughts and prayers and the Bible verses they rely on as they deal with issues in their lives. The mystery of vandalism is not resolved nor are the issues of the depression of a young widow and the rebellion of her brother. I assume these problems will be carried into the next book in the series. A new Englisch couple moves in across the road from the greenhouse. The wife in the family suffers from a physical disability, but also from an unreasonable dislike of the Amish. She is rather mean spirited, but I have the feeling there must be a story behind her attitude. Other plot threads are an unexpected suitor from the past for the matron of the family and the opening of a rival greenhouse.

It was refreshing to read a mystery with no murders. I enjoyed learning more about Amish customs and beliefs. Reading The Crow’s Call is a good antidote to current social upheaval as this book emphasizes treating others with kindness and trusting in God.

I would like to extend my thanks to NetGalley and to Barbour Publishing (Shiloh Run Press) for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Christian, Women’s Fiction, Mystery

Notes: This is most definitely part of a series, meaning if you want total closure on all threads, then this is not the book for you. I enjoyed the book, want to learn more about the characters, and anticipate further interesting plot developments, so I am “all in” to experience the rest of the series as it is published.

Publication:   March 1, 2020—Barbour Publishing (Shiloh Run Press)

Memorable Lines: 

Things she used to take for granted that had once seemed like simple chores now felt like heavy burdens she could hardly bear.

“It’s best not to worry—especially about things that are beyond our control. We need to pray every day and put our faith in God. And it wouldn’t hurt to ask Him to put a hedge of protection around us.”

She couldn’t let her discouragement tear down her faith. The best remedy was reading God’s Holy Word.

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.

Charmed by the Cook’s Kids–a chef with hidden talents

Charmed by the Cook’s Kids

by Melinda Curtis

Charmed by the Cook's KidsHarlan Monroe’s many descendants have personalities and passions that are as diverse as the snowflakes that fall on the dying Idaho tourist town of Second Chance, but they have one thing in common. The terms of their beloved grandfather’s will led to their parents’ firing them from family businesses. They now must agree on saving their grandfather’s hometown or selling it off.

Ivy was rescued from an abusive marriage by Harlan and is now raising her children by running the Bent Nickel, the town’s only restaurant. She supports herself as a short order cook, but she indulges her culinary passions in her secret kitchen. Cam Monroe, who has a coveted Michelin star, arrives in the little town only to discover that his family wants him to cater out of Bent Nickel’s  marginally adequate kitchen for a crowd of celebrities at his cousin’s wedding. 

Ivy and Cam lock horns over different culinary goals and methods before they get to know each other. They both have likable sides and honorable goals, but they have histories that they have to work through.

Melinda Curtis tells their story in Charmed by the Cook’s Kids where you, also, will be charmed by R.J., an aspiring 8 year old chef, and his 5 year old brother Nick. Foodies at heart, they are protective of their mother and have her rules and routines engrained in their psyches. I have enjoyed all the books in the Mountain Monroes, and Charmed by the Cook’s Kids is no exception. If you have read the other books in this series, you will enjoy meeting up with old friends. If this book is the first for you, I think you will find enough information provided that you will not puzzle over characters who are not central to the storyline. Although a clean and heartwarming romance, this book addresses head-on emotional and verbal abuse and the damage they cause. The main storyline has closure, but a few threads are left dangling to entice you to join the denizens of Second Chance to see how situations play out in the next book in this fun series that will leave you smiling.

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.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Romance

Notes: #6 in the Mountain Monroes, but works well as a standalone.

Publication:   June 1, 2020—Harlequin Heartwarming

Memorable Lines:

…she’d felt a shock when he’d taken her arms and shifted her out of his way, a jolt like the first tart taste of lemon in a finely made meringue.

Don’t touch my dish, Ivy. You’ll just ruin it. Her ex-husband’s voice echoed in the kitchen, in Ivy’s head, in her very bones. He’d yell and whisper and hiss that she should stay away, and then he’d contradict himself. You knew my sauce needed more basil. What kind of idiot lets it go out that way?

Diane fixed Ivy with a stare cold enough to freeze the Salmon River.

Dressed Up 4 Murder–Chiweenie in a fashion parade

Dressed Up 4 Murder

Dressed Up 4 Murder

Sun City West, a retirement community in Arizona, is the setting for a cozy mystery series featuring Sophie Kimball, an accountant for Williams Investigations. Sophie uses her deductive reasoning skills to help with cases that her boss Nate and boyfriend Marshall are called upon to investigate, often by the county sheriff’s office.

Dressed Up 4 Murder is a combination of humor, thanks to Sophie’s persistent mother Harriet and her gossipy friends, and mystery involving murder, affairs, and seafood. The star of the book in so many ways is Harriet’s chiweenie, Streetman. He competes in a series of doggy parades dressed in themed costumes designed especially for him by Harriet’s friend Shirley. When Streetman literally uncovers a body, Sophie and Marshall are on the scene. Harriet depends on Sophie to solve the case and, meanwhile, keeps Sophie regularly updated on the developments of Streetman’s costumes.

The doggy parade and the banter of Harriet and her friends will leave you smiling and chuckling, while the red herrings will keep you turning pages to solve the mysteries. Do all the threads tie together or are there actually several cases and multiple villains?

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: #6 in the Sophie Kimball Mystery Series, but works well as a standalone.

Publication:   February 25, 2020—Kensington Books

Memorable Lines:

…my mother used all of her available time to drive me nuts. Endless phone calls about doggie designer clothes and the Halloween pet parade. I was looking forward to this first spectacle of the Precious Pooches Holiday Extravaganza as much as a root canal.

…I got to enjoy three or four minutes of blissful silence. Until my mother opened her mouth. “Phee is investigating those poisonings. It’s very hush-hush.” If it’s so hush-hush, why is she announcing it at gossip’s epicenter?”

By now I was getting really antsy, and apparently I wasn’t the only one. “Dish the dirt, Myrna,” Louise said, “while most of us still have our hearing.”

On the Lamb–deadly beach party

On the Lamb

by Tina Kashian

On the LambThere is a lot of fun to be had in Tina Kashian’s latest cozy mystery, On the Lamb. Lucy Berberian, who manages her family’s Mediterranean restaurant, Kebab Kitchen, in the small Jersey tourist town of Ocean Crest has a reputation for solving mysteries with the help of a sidekick. Her best friend Katie fills the bill, only this time Katie’s husband Bill, an Ocean Crest police officer, is not assigned to the case so they are on their own in their informal investigations.

There are many suspects in the murder case as no one seems to have positive feelings about the victim Gilbert, not even his wife. You’ll want to read On the Lamb to find out what hold Gilbert had over various characters and watch the course of the duo’s inquiries that turn dangerous.

On the fun side is Eloisa Lubinski, a widow in her eighties who isn’t letting life pass her by. Lucy rents out Eloisa’s very pink upstairs apartment with an amazing oceanfront view and a sixties decor. Other interesting characters include Azad, chef at the Kabob Kitchen and Lucy’s former boyfriend, and Madame Vega, a longtime psychic on the boardwalk whose powers of observation and perception exceed any claimed clairvoyant  abilities. The boardwalk setting is a fantastic backdrop and critical to the events of the story.

This cozy mystery checks off all the boxes for a fun afternoon read. My one issue is that Lucy, a former patent attorney, and Katie, the wife of a police officer, clearly break the law on several occasions. They were more concerned about how to safely share their criminally obtained information with the police than with their committing the crime. Cozies often have the main character walk in grey areas or put their own lives in danger; this one went a little too far. I still enjoyed the story very much for its interesting plot, characters, and setting and recommend it as well as the whole Kitchen Kabob Mystery 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: 4/5

Category: Mystery

Notes: 1. #4 in the Kitchen Kebab Mystery Series, it will be fine as a standalone as the author gives lots of background as she begins the plot.

  2. The book is wrapped up with some delicious sounding Mediterranean recipes.

Publication:   February 25, 2020—Kensington Books

Memorable Lines:

It was old lady décor. Sixties kitchen with a limegreen refrigerator, tiered curtains, wallpaper with roosters and matching decorative wall plates displaying more roosters. One of the cabinet doors had been left open to reveal a shelf liner with a print of—she could have guessed it by now—roosters. It smelled like old lady, too. A combination of Jean Naté and BENGAY.

As she gazed at the delights behind the glass counter, she could almost feel the added extra inches on her waist and hips. The candy store took temptation to a different level.

The creamy chocolate and peanut butter combo danced like a ballet on her tongue.

Under the Radar–extreme bullying

Under the Radar

by Annette Dashofy

Under the RadarWith a full-time job with the Monongahela County EMS and a “part-time gig as deputy coroner,” Zoe Chambers has reason to be on the scene when bad things happen. In Annette Dashofy’s Under the Radar, murders abound. Zoe’s friend from high school, the much bullied Horace, turns himself in for the murder of long-time tormentor Dennis Culp. Did Horace snap under the continued violent harassment?

Under the Radar contains lots of twisty paths in the criminal investigations with several major surprises along the way. In addition to murder and burglaries, there are personal issues as Zoe plans her wedding to Vance Township Police Chief Pete Adams. She somehow manages to become involved in a deadly scenario while trying to track down a half brother she has never met. There is a little comic relief via Zoe’s interactions with her mother Kimberly and a “girls’ road trip.” Local politics works its way into the story as Zoe’s boss has to compete for his job, and the election results could also affect Zoe’s employment. 

The books in this series are page turners and Under the Radar is no exception.

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: #9 in the Zoe Chambers Mystery Series, but can be read as a standalone because the mystery is the strong part of the plot and much background information is supplied at the beginning of the book.

Publication:   February 25, 2020—Henery Press

Memorable Lines:

Pete didn’t need to tell Horace to stay close. If he’d been any closer, he’d have been in Pete’s back pocket.

He hated to wish ill on anyone, but he hoped someone requested assistance or needed an officer for something—anything—minor. Paperwork sucked.

Kimberly had two large suitcases, a massive carry-on, and what Zoe guessed was a makeup bag big enough to stock the Dior counter at a department store.

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