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An Ale of Two Cities–bookish at its best

An Ale of Two Cities

by Sarah Fox

An Ale of Two CitiesI found some relief from the pandemic news in An Ale of Two Cities by Sarah Fox. It is a fun, serious, puzzling cozy mystery with some action and excitement included. Although setting and atmosphere usually take a backseat to plot and characters in this kind of mystery, all of the elements are important here. The bookish setting is the Inkwell, Sadie’s pub decked out with bookshelves, literary decor, and special cozy rooms such as the one dedicated to Agatha Christie. Special literary-themed drinks are offered and, with two chefs, food has been added to the menu. Sadie has organized genre book clubs that meet monthly as well. All of this takes place in Vermont where our Tennessean main character has to adapt to the snow and cold weather.

The deadly mischief begins at the Winter Carnival’s Ice Sculpting Competition. Mel, one of Sadie’s employees, is competing and discovers a minor crime in the theft of her tools; but the plot turns deadly when Freddy, an unpleasant former denizen of the tourist town, is found dead in the snow. The evidence initially points to Mel, but there are lots of people with motivations to cut Freddy’s life short. Sadie investigates hoping to find the murderer thus clearing Mel’s name. In addition to the trauma of discovering dead bodies, Sadie has to deal with her growing attraction to Grayson who owns a local brewery. Winter Carnival appeals to her competitive nature as she organizes a hockey team representing her pub in ugly, mustard-yellow sweaters and learns how to snowshoe in preparation for the big race.

I highly recommend An Ale of Two Cities for its humor, plot, and all-around good reading fun. If you love books, then you’ll probably give this mystery  bonus points for its bookish nature.

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

Rating: 5/5

Category: Mystery

Notes:

 1. #2 in the Literary Pub Mystery Series, but could be read as a standalone.

  2. Recipes are included for some cocktails as well as Paradise Lox.

Publication:   November 26, 2019—Kensington Books

Memorable Lines:

When my cat wanted his breakfast, he wasn’t about to let anything get in his way, especially not five more minutes of heavenly slumber for his human servant.

I had to take a long, hot shower and drink another cup of steaming coffee before I could declare myself completely thawed out. Once I no longer felt like a close cousin of one of the ice sculptures out on the village green, I headed downstairs to the Inkwell to get ready for the workday.

Spreading rumors was her superpower. It didn’t matter if they were true or not. As soon as Gretchen got hold of some tasty tidbit of fact or fiction, there was no stopping its spread through town.

Murder with Cherry Tarts–tearoom delights throughout the mystery

Murder with Cherry Tarts

by Karen Rose Smith

Murder with Cherry TartsWhat a delightful cozy mystery! I enjoyed Murder with Cherry Tarts by Karen Rose Smith from beginning to end. It has interesting characters including Daisy Swanson, a widow and co-owner of Daisy’s Tea Garden with her Aunt Iris. Daisy is at the center of the book’s many threads. There is, of course, a murder mystery which Daisy tries not to get involved in, but her kind nature won’t allow her to stand by while an innocent man is railroaded by a detective with a chip on his shoulder. That chip is connected to Daisy’s boyfriend Jonas, a former detective. Other tensions include a homeless man and his daughter and an elderly antique shop owner possibly being cheated by a family member. Also, Daisy has continuing relationship issues with her mother, preparations for the upcoming wedding of her pregnant daughter, and the struggles of her youngest daughter, who is adopted, to connect with her biological mother. It is a busy story!

The setting is Lancaster County in Pennsylvania. Although Daisy is not Amish, there are a sprinkling of references to horse and buggy transport and other Amish customs as Willow Creek is a seasonal tourist town.

Despite the various focuses on relationships, the mystery is still key. There are several suspects with plausible motives, but when the murderer is revealed in a scene replete with danger, the surprise ending is stunning.

The author follows up with an epilogue that provides a promisingly happy conclusion to the relationship threads as well as the murder investigation. There are, however, still developments to look forward to in the next cozy in this series.

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

Rating: 5/5

Category: Mystery

Notes: 1. #4 in the Daisy’s Tea Garden Mystery Series, but works very well as a standalone. The characters’ backgrounds  are skillfully woven into the first chapter.

2. The book concludes with recipes, including one for Daisy’s famous cherry tarts that everyone raves about.

Publication:   November 26, 2019—Kensington Books

Memorable Lines:

“Sharing tea with a friend is a calming experience. I think it has to do with just taking time out of your day to talk and to share. It doesn’t matter the type of tea or if you use sugar or honey or milk. It’s just the experience of sipping it that counts.”

That was exactly what grief felt like, a hole that could never be filled up.

The photographs would never reveal the tension that always bubbled up within her family. But that was the point of happy photos, wasn’t it? To remember the good times and cherish them.

Memories and Murder–scamming seniors

Memories and Murder

by Lynn Cahoon

Memories and MurderThe name of the series, Tourist Trap Mysteries, doesn’t begin to describe this bookish set adequately. Memories and Murder is the latest installment in which Jill Gardner, owner of Coffee, Books and More in little South Cove, drinks coffee, eats sweet treats, and reads her way through relationship and murder issues. There are lots of threads to this plot. Aunt Jackie has called off her engagement to Harrold and gone silent. Deek is a new barista in the coffee shop; he is more perceptive than psychic, despite his heritage. He has great ideas for book clubs and follows through with implementation. Jill juggles investigating a murder and a scam and finds herself in deadly trouble.

The story is told from Jill’s point of view, and first person narration works well here. The pace moves along snappily in this cozy mystery. Don’t be deterred by Memories and Murder being the tenth book in the sequence. Author Lynn Cahoon is a master at bringing readers up to speed on characters and background. In the first chapter you will learn almost everything you need to know to enjoy this book while the storyline gets underway. There is perhaps a little too much description of who ate what, when, and where, but other than feeling like I needed to accompany Jill and her dog Emma on their beach runs, those details were not truly excessive. In fact, I’m looking forward to joining the South Cove family of friends in their next adventure.

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

Rating: 5/5

Category: Mystery

Notes: #10 in The Tourist Trap Mystery Series, but works well as a standalone.

Publication:   November 12, 2019— Lyrical Underground (Kensington Press)

Memorable Lines:

Fighting with my boyfriend had not been one of the things on my to-do list today, but you had to make room for impromptu items.

Operation Harrold Wins Jackie Back was going to work. It had to work. All the best books and movies had a happily ever after. Real life should too.

…he’d assured me that the sun would turn to ice before he left me for her.

Tracking Game–explosive action

Tracking Game

by Margaret Mizushima

Tracking GameI am fairly easy going, taking life’s interruptions as they come. I found my limits, however, as I read Tracking Game by Margaret Mizushima. I resented every disruption because I just wanted to keep reading.

Mizushima is a master of K-9 police procedurals. Her character creations are outstanding. They include Deputy Mattie Cobb who has numerous personal issues stemming from her childhood, but is courageous and determined. Robo, her K-9 officer, is an amazing, skilled, and intelligent dog. With Mattie’s talents in training and reading her dog and Robo’s abilities to interpret Mattie’s signals and branch out into fields he has not been trained in, they make an outstanding team. Also important in the story is Cole Waker, the local vet, who loves Mattie but lets their relationship develop slowly to meet her emotional needs as well as those of his two daughters whom he is raising alone.

The story starts gently at a dance at the Timber Creek community center but literally explodes with action and doesn’t slow down as they discover a victim in the explosion, but also find the death was actually caused by a gunshot. As the sheriffs try to figure out that complication, they peel back layers of the onion only to find lots of people with motivations. What could cause seemingly nice people to commit horrific acts? Possibilities include drugs, affairs, and blackmail, but the situation here is even more complicated. Mattie and Robo are in potentially deadly situations as they engage in various searches. Another search dog with a different specialty is brought in to help. 

On a personal level, Mattie feels it is important to share her past with Cole, wondering how it will affect their relationship. Cole, meanwhile, is struggling to protect his daughters as they try to reengage with their mother who has mental issues.

The plot is complicated with some surprising twists that will keep you alternating holding your breath and turning those pages. As a police procedural, it is top notch. The reveal of the murderer and the motivation is a surprise and occurs in a very memorable scene. As the book draws to a close, Mattie receives information of a personal nature that leads the reader hanging in anticipation of the next book in the series.

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

Rating: 5/5

Category: Mystery

Notes: 1. I am a Basset hound, ears hanging down, sort of girl, but even I come away from this book just loving and admiring the sharp, but fun, and supportive Robo.

  2. #5 in the Timber Creek K-9 Mystery Series, this book would probably be more fun if read in order in the series; but the action is most important, and the author brings the reader up to speed on any necessary personal details.

Publication:   November 12, 2019—Crooked Lane Books

Memorable Lines:

She wanted to move forward in her relationship with Cole, but her childhood loomed between them like the two-way mirror Sheriff McCoy had recently installed in one of their interrogation rooms at the station. She could see Cole clearly, but she and her baggage remained hidden from him.

Robo edged closer, hovering at her left heel, growling as he searched the area with his eyes as well as his nose. A chill ran down her spine, and Mattie drew her Glock from its holster. She had no idea what they were facing, but she understood her partner’s warning.

Life seemed so simple for Robo: rest and relax when you can, take pleasure in a job well done. He didn’t lie awake at night wondering if he’d done the right thing. She loved him for it.

A Deathly Silence–horrific crime

A Deathly Silence

by Jane Isaac

A Deathly SilenceDetective Chief Inspector Helen Lavery has been recuperating from work related injuries when she gets called back by the horrific death of a young woman. Helen, a widow and the mother of two boys, was fast-tracked into her current position and leads a team of investigators in Jane Isaac’s A Deathly Silence which is a police procedural on steroids.

This mystery details the dangerous investigation that leads Helen and her team to examine evidence, interview suspects and witnesses multiple times, attend autopsies, engage in stake-outs, create timelines, and gather to brainstorm theories. The clues become even more muddled as a leak appears and Helen and her team wonder who they can trust. One death seems to lead to more, and even the gang that previously sidelined Helen comes under suspicion. A Deathly Silence is a top-notch mystery and police procedural. Helen is a likable main character, but the plot is the show stopper in this book that will set you up to want to read more in this series. The murder is a surprise as is the motive.

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

Rating: 5/5

Category: Mystery, General Fiction (Adult)

Notes: As #3 in the the DCI Helen Lavery Novel Series, this book can most definitely work as a standalone; I was not aware it was part of a series until I prepared to write this review.

Publication:   October 15, 2019—Legend Press

Memorable Lines:

He was in a tailspin, a swirling vortex of emotions, his heart fighting to burst out of his chest.

Teamwork existed on trust and the very idea that one of her people had betrayed that trust was like a fishbone lodged in the back of her throat.

There were always more casualties than the dead in a murder investigation.

Haunted House Ghost–convoluted plot

Haunted House Ghost

by James J. Cudney

FHaunted House Ghostor readers who enjoy a complex mystery, I recommend Haunted House Ghost for a plot that is intricate and convoluted, but in the best possible way. Author James J. Cudney takes plot complexities to a whole new level with family relationships taking center stage as past and current marriages and paternity issues come to light when victim remains from cold murder cases are discovered. 

Murder and intrigue play out in the setting of a haunted house that the main character Kellan is trying to restore as a home for his growing family. Weird sightings, threatening messages, and a locked basement set the stage for a ghostly mystery. Is a ghost actually haunting the house? Is Madam Zenya really a psychic medium? In true Agatha Christie style, the main players in the mystery are gathered to force the truth to emerge. 

There are so many surprises in Haunted House Ghost that I watched in amazement as the mystery developed. Fortunately, the author helps with a recap of possible suspects and motives as Kellan meets with the sheriff (his girlfriend April) and the case detective (his best friend Connor) to convince them to try his clever idea to force the murderer into the open. The murderer’s identity is surprising and unpredictable as are the final pages that make the perfect setup for the next book in the series.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Mystery

Notes: I am behind in my reading and reviewing but really wanted to be caught up with the Braxton Campus Mystery Series before the sixth book in the series, Frozen Stiff Drink, is published on March 18, 2020. Therefore, Haunted House Ghost (#5 ) snuck up to the top of my reading queue. All of the books in this series can be read as standalones as the author provides a lot of support in the form of a character list and an area map as well as explanations of character relationships in the context of the ongoing plot. My personal preference in reading this series, however, is to read the books in order as there are so many interesting characters and lots of developing relationships.

Publication:  October 1, 2019—Next Chapter

Memorable Lines:

“It’s sealed tighter than Scrooge’s wallet.”

Instinct suggested there were many threads to this conundrum, and if I pulled on a few random ones, I might unravel the whole knotted ball of yarn soon enough.

My skin prickled as if thousands of tiny insects crawled up and down my body. A drafty wind whistled through the stairwell as the steps creaked.

Penny for Your Secrets–post World War I England

Penny for Your Secrets

by Anna Lee Huber

Penny for Your SecretsI do so enjoy historical fiction with more than a touch of mystery. Penny for Your Secrets by Anna Lee Huber is that kind of book. Unfortunately, and perhaps it was just me, but this novel seemed to drag a bit. The premise is interesting and becomes increasingly complicated as more murders occur. The Kents, Verity and Sidney, can’t get away from their heroic pasts. Each played a critical undercover role in World War I, and their friends, the media, and their own souls will not let them forget it. In this book, issues from World War I resurface in various ways and involve current MI5 operatives as well.

Although I like the Kents, their relationship issues play a role that is too prominent at the expense of the plot. I understand their angst over past decisions, but sometimes I just wanted to tell them how lucky they are: they emerged from a horrific war with no major physical injuries, considerable financial wealth, and a marriage intact. So many could not claim any of those benefits after World War I.

Kudos to the author for an intricate plot, an appealing setting, and historical accuracy. It will be interesting to see what adventures await the fashionable Kents next.

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

Rating: 4/5 

Category: Historical Fiction, Mystery

Notes: #3 in the Verity Kent Mystery Series, but works as a standalone

Publication:   October 29, 2019—Kensington Books

Memorable Lines:

My skin prickled at being in such close proximity to so much anger, as if the daggers aimed at others had been deflected on to me.

“…my father always did have a different standard when it came to what he and his peers were allowed to do as opposed to the rest of the world.”

“In some situations, there is no winning. No right way. You can only make the best choices you can, and hope the people your decision might have harmed will forgive you in the end.”

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