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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.

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.”

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.”

The Cat Who Played Post Office–mystery in the mansion

The Cat Who Played Post Office

by Lilian Jackson Braun

In an effort to mix things up a bit, my book club chose to read a quick and easy mystery written by Lilian Jackson Braun, famous for her popular The Cat Who series. We rather randomly selected The Cat Who Played Post Office. The choice didn’t matter to me because I had read one in the series decades ago and had not not enjoyed it. After reading our selection, I can only say that clearly my tastes have changed, or I previously chose the one book in the series that was not a good match for me.

I found The Cat Who Played Post Office delightful. The main character Jim Qwilleran has just inherited a lot of money and a large estate. He formerly was a newspaper journalist with a talent for criminal investigations. Equally important to the story are Koko and Yum Yum, his Siamese cats. The book begins in the middle of the tale drawing the reader into who Qwill is and why he is in the hospital. Then the author takes us back and later forward in time—in this case a very effective technique.

As a journalist, Qwill has an extensive vocabulary which Braun puts on full display in a way that doesn’t seem pretentious at all. Qwill uses words like ailurophobe, postprandial, and sybaritic in his conversations and descriptions. Logophiles will enjoy his use of language.

Yum Yum is a typical Siamese, but Koko is extraordinary. He uses his sixth sense to lead Qwill to clues that warn of danger or alert him to important facts. Qwill is honest and good hearted. He has a love interest in this book in the practical Dr. Melinda Goodwinter, and he makes friends easily in his new town where he immediately becomes involved in civic and charitable interests. Koko brings the mysterious disappearance, five years prior, of the free spirited Daisy to Qwill’s attention. As he begins to ask questions about this young lady, dangerous things happen. When mail arrives through the door slot, the cats attack the fluttering envelopes, and Koko selects particular letters to bring to Qwill’s attention which might help him learn more about Daisy and her fate. The characters and setting in this book are interesting, but the mystery remains central.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Mystery

Notes: #6 in The Cat Who series, but I had no problem reading it as a standalone.

Publication:  1987—Penguin (Jove Books)

Memorable Lines:

Koko, as he grew older, was developing a more expressive voice with a gamut of clarion yowling, guttural growling, tenor yodeling, and musical yikking.

They could talk freely. Their booth was an island of privacy in a maelstrom of ear-splitting noise. The animated conversation of happy diners and the excited shrieks of children bounced off the steel girders and concrete walls, and the din was augmented by the Tasty Eats custom of pounding the table with knife handles to express satisfaction with the food.

Qwilleran wondered whether she was listening. He had spent enough time at cocktail parties to know the rhythm of social drinking, and Penelope was exceeding the speed limit. She was also sliding farther down on the slippery sofa.

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.

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