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Welcome to the First School by the Sea–boarding school in Cornwall

Welcome to the First School by the Sea

by Jenny Colgan

Whether or not you are a fan of British boarding school books aimed at girls, you will enjoy this series written for adults who loved that genre in their younger days. The series will contain six books as it follows students and teachers through six grades at Downey House in Cornwall beginning with this book, Welcome to the First School by the Sea.

Maggie, a young English teacher from Glasgow, has been teaching in a fairly rough school in London and is ready for a change. She lands a job at the posh boarding school which looks like a beautiful castle. Her long-time, scruffy boyfriend Stan stays behind, and they try to work through the problems of a long distance relationship. The girls and some of the staff are introduced gradually as the plot progresses. Some are likable, some intentionally not. I really enjoyed meeting the various characters from the hardworking, bullied scholarship student Simone whose family hails from Romania to the sophisticated and daring French teacher Claire Crozier.

Maggie wants to do well by her students and is committed to being successful in her new job. She find herself in the middle of situations that develop and even puts herself physically at risk to help a distraught student. The Headteacher, Dr. Veronica Deveral, is a formidable but also amiable institution at the school. There is a potential romantic interest in Maggie’s counterpart at the boys’ school nearby. His dog Stephen Daedalus plays a prominent role in the story.

The normal tension from girls going through puberty, angst over grades, sports and distant family, and unpleasant bullying is ratcheted up when some valuable personal items go missing at the school. The identity of the thief is quite a surprise. Other dramatic twists are included, but not totally resolved leaving the reader anxious to rejoin the staff and students of Downey House after their summer break.

I would like to extend my thanks to NetGalley and to HarperCollins (William Morrow) for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 4/5

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

Notes: 1. #1 in The School by the Sea series.
2. Be sure to read “A Word from Jenny” about the origin of the series. It is very interesting as is the original “Introduction” by the author under her pen name.
3. Some swearing.

Publication: March 29, 2022—HarperCollins (William Morrow)

Memorable Lines:

Once she’d dreamed of filling young hearts and minds with wonderful books and poetry; inspiring them, like Robin Williams, to think beyond their small communities and into the big world. Now she just dreamed of crowd control, and keeping them quiet for ten bloody minutes without someone whacking somebody else or answering their hidden mobiles.

Pat and Liz had been delighted to take the young teacher under their wing and give her the benefit of their wisdom, acquired through about two years in the classroom and twenty in administration, as far as Maggie could work out.

Remembering her family’s love provided a small candle of warmth inside her.

Death by Chocolate Chip Cupcake–literally a cliffhanger

Death by Chocolate Chip Cupcake

by Sarah Graves

Most cozy mysteries are fairly tame. They have an interesting plot with a great whodunnit puzzle, a little action, and a sprinkling or two of danger. With Death by Chocolate Chip Cupcake, you can take those expectations and turn them upside down. Then double the pace, add lots of adventure, and throw in some creepiness.

The settings are extremely important to the plot. Main character Jacobia (Jake) and her friend Ellie own a chocolate-themed bakery, The Chocolate Moose, in the island village of Eastport, Maine. A lot of the action takes place at a remote cliffside house recently purchased by Ingrid Merryfield, a past-her-prime actress. Formerly glorious but currently decaying, Cliff House sits at the end of a narrow peninsula. With one way in by car, boat access when the tides are right, earthquakes, swamps, and secret tunnels, Sarah Graves has created a setting that is the perfect background for her plot.

Merryfield is hosting a party to ostensibly show off her new house to old friends even before any remodeling has been done. The guests who are staying overnight are plunged into sudden danger as they are trapped when a ginormous tree is uprooted and blocks the egress just as someone starts murdering them one by one. Instead of a locked room mystery, we can call it a sealed island mystery.

Ellie and Jake have been hired and paid well to provide chocolate desserts with the proviso that they stay overnight to serve and clean up. Things go from bad to worse as Jake tries to save Ellie, Jake’s stepmother, and Jake’s daughter-in-law and get them off the island. Graves goes into great detail with the setting helping the reader picture the dangerous cliffs and rising tides.

Sorting through the characters, their motivations, and the numerous plot twists is a full-time job. In the conclusion, everything is spelled out and loose ends are tied up. Jake and Ellie are brave, self-sacrificing, and ingenious ladies, but two of my favorite characters critical to the plot are not main characters. My semi-heroes are Igor the Irish Wolfhound who has a recurrent role and Jake’s elderly father who should not be underestimated. Death by Chocolate Chip Cupcake is not the book for a calm afternoon’s read, but a cup of hot tea might go with it well as there are some wet, cold scenes.

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 Death by Chocolate Series. It could be read as a standalone, but would be enjoyed better with more character background.
2. Minor swearing (about 5 occasions)

Publication: March 29, 2021—Kensington

Memorable Lines:

…there are no dumb housewives in Maine. If there were, they’d get eaten by bears, poisoned by toadstools masquerading as mushrooms, or bled dry by mosquitoes so big they could stand flat-footed and look right over the barn at you.

So the whole line of thought was a vicious circle and for now I set it aside turning instead to thoughts of our imminent journey: Life jacket, check. Iron grip on the rail, check.

On the hearth, flames licked hungrily at the logs, curling their splinters to frizzled wisps.

Legally Blind Luck–uncovering the truth

Legally Blind Luck

by James J. Cudney

The discoveries, surprises, and twists just keep coming in the seventh novel in James J. Cudney’s cozy mystery series. In Legally Blind Luck there are a number of mysterious new characters including a blind woman with a bodyguard. Kellan, the main character, discovers a murder victim just as an art exhibit is scheduled to open on campus. An art treasure, supposedly bearing a curse, disappears. Kellan’s uncle who died a few months prior to the exhibit might have been involved. These events seem to be tied into South Africa’s history of apartheid. Kellan and his girlfriend April, a sheriff, have to search out the murderer and untangle relationship webs to keep Kellan and his family safe.

The many characters in the book are described in great detail. The plot moves quickly enough, but it is easy for me to get bogged down as I try to recall the characters as they reappear. Fortunately, the author, recognizing that this could be a problem, includes a descriptive character list at the beginning of the book. As usual, Kellan’s Nana D plays a role in providing humor as she and her grandson lovingly tease each other. The conclusion of the book holds many surprises that I absolutely did not see coming as well as some major hooks to draw the reader into the next book in the series.

I would like to extend my thanks to author James J. Cudney and to Gumshoe (Next Chapter) for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 4/5

Category: Mystery

Notes: #7 in the Braxton Campus Mystery Series. It could be read as a standalone, but the author recommends “reading the series in order because of the side stories and character progression.” I agree with him, and I have enjoyed each book.

Publication: April 15, 2020—Next Chapter

Memorable Lines:

I’d mostly felt lost and ignored, so I kept to myself—bookish nerd met prankster met Curious George.

Dr. Myriam Castle delivered a uniquely special brand of cantankerous poppycock that was best left ignored if you valued your sanity.

“I might believe her personality is on par with Nurse Ratched and Lizzie Borden, but I don’t doubt her love for you.”

Academic Curveball: FREE Kindle from 3/5 thru 3/9

This is a fun cozy mystery series with a male protagonist and lots of quirky characters. It is a good series to start at the beginning as there is a lot of character background that develops through the series. It is amazing the author is giving readers the opportunity to read this first book for free! I hope you enjoy it!

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.

In Cold Camomile–a second chance for Iphy

In Cold Camomile

by Joy Avon

In Cold CamomileCallie Aspen and her great-aunt Iphy, who own the book-themed tea shop Book Tea, are managing a Valentine-themed fundraiser for lovely Haywood Hall. Callie is supervising the whole event with its many volunteers, and Iphy is providing her beautiful tea creations.

Unfortunately, there is a murder at the tea, and a long lost acquaintance of Iphy’s is a major suspect. The book includes several mysteries. Iphy is quite secretive about her relationship with the baritone guest singer. There are a pair of women overheard plotting revenge. No one seems to like the murder victim. 

Callie risks her relationship with Ace, acting sheriff, to insure her aunt’s safety. Both ladies act rather rashly and contrary to Ace’s advisement as they investigate.

I enjoyed Joy Avon’s In Cold Camomile but never quite felt the thrill of the investigation. It is clear that Callie and Iphy are overstepping their bounds and that there will be negative consequences. This mystery is diverting, but not gripping. I look forward to the next book in the A Tea and a Read series as several personal relationships are at the cusp of transition.

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

Rating:  4/5

Category: Mystery

Notes: #3 in the A Tea and a Read Mystery Series 

Publication:   February 11, 2020—Crooked Lane Books

Memorable Lines:

The wind played around them, and the darkness seemed to squeeze just a little tighter. Sometimes happiness seemed just out of reach, so tantalizingly close and yet too far away to ever grab hold of.

Callie had the unpleasant sensation that everyone was different that day than they usually were, and not in a good way.

She didn’t feel like eggs and yogurt with walnuts and honey anymore. Her stomach seemed too full to eat anything. Full of murder and manipulation, with no clear clues leading her anywhere.

A Springtime to Remember–gardens of Versailles

A Springtime to Remember

by Lucy Coleman

A Springtime to RememberThere are times, like today, when I wonder why I would pick a romance off the virtual bookshelves. Then I read a book like A Springtime to Remember by Lucy Coleman and understanding strikes again. I am hit by a combination of the beauty of Versailles, the ostentatious audacity of the aristocracy of days gone by, a passion for history, the mystery of family relationships, and ultimately the gentle magnetism of two hearts drawn into one.

Lexie, a TV presenter, wants more professionally; it is not enough to be the pretty face in front of the camera. She also has to prove her value to her successful brother, Jake, who very publicly fired her. Lexie is combining forces with cameraman Elliot Nielson to produce and financially back their own mini-series of documentaries. Their first project takes them to France to focus on the Palace of Versailles. Their futures are ironically fixed in the past: Lexie has an added interest in Versailles as her grandmother, an avid gardener, spent a year working in the Versailles gardens immediately prior to her marriage. Mysteriously, she never discussed that year with her family.

Indulge in this clean romance with its appreciation for natural beauty and historical context. You will be treating yourself to lots of smiles and a few tears in the midst of a well-told tale.

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

Rating: 5/5

Category: Romance, Women’s Fiction

Publication:   December 26, 2019—Boldwood Books

Memorable Lines:

“Versailles holds so many secrets. The more you uncover, the more you realise the surface has only just been scratched, even after all the years of intense scrutiny.”

I nod my head in agreement, thinking that every family has their problems, they’re just all very different. It’s how you resolve them that counts…

“I’ve learnt that the nature of life is that everyone’s journey is different and, therefore, no one should ever stand in judgement of another. Not least because they have not travelled that same road. Instead, it’s wise to feel grateful if one’s own road is less arduous, or one is simply better equipped to deal with the harsher realities of life.”

6 Books by James J. Cudney, May Promo

I have read, enjoyed, and reviewed all of the cozy mysteries in the Braxton Campus Mystery Series. May brings an opportunity to purchase some of them at a reduced price. They will make great pandemic “stay at home” reading fun. Enjoy!

Have a Deadly New Year–Christie-inspired plot

Have a Deadly New Year

by Lynn Cahoon

Have a Deadly New YearToday was a great day to read a novella—short and complete in one sitting. Lynn Cahoon’s Have a Deadly New Year found Angie Turner and her staff of chefs at The County Seat restaurant offsite at a combination catering event and retreat. After providing a fancy multi-course meal to kick off a famous band’s reunion, the chefs were looking forward to a week’s working vacation in the huge, glamorous mansion. Complications arise when one of the band leaders is murdered and no one can go anywhere. The house is in a remote area, a blizzard strikes, and they are mandated to stay until the police return from another emergency. Are they under lockdown with a murderer and who might it be? 

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: This is a Farm to Fork novella. I love this series, and I normally find Lynn Cahoon’s books effective as standalones. I would not recommend it for this novella, however. It is just too short to comprehensively make all of the connections necessary for full enjoyment.

Publication:   December 3, 2019—Lyrical Underground (Kensington Press)

Memorable Lines: 

“I have a personal motto that it’s all about me.” “You’re the leading man in your own play.”

“I suppose you’ll be doing New Year’s resolutions during your week? Make sure they’re about you and not what others think you should do.”

“Negative energy never produces a positive outlook.”

Thanksgiving in Paradise–Serenity doesn’t live up to its name

Thanksgiving in Paradise

by Kathi Daley

Thanksgiving in ParadiseThe gang is all back in the township of Serenity located near Paradise Lake when danger explodes, quite literally, in the town hall. Tj, a P.E teacher who helps her family run a resort, and her wealthy, tech savvy boyfriend, Kyle, team up with Deputy Roy Fisher to get to the bottom of the mystery. Was the explosion aimed at the building or at an individual? How was the bombing achieved? There are certainly more questions than answers as the shady side of quiet Paradise comes to light.

The plot elements are well done, and I enjoyed reading Thanksgiving in Paradise. I had two issues which I was willing to overlook as I do enjoy the series. One problem arises from the ease with which Deputy Roy shares information with Tj and Kyle, who then share it with family and friends. I had to keep reminding myself that they are close friends, it is a small town, and the deputies are shorthanded. Although skeptical, I must admit that the team effort pays off. Another minor irritation is the number of times author Kathi Daley tells the reader that Tj pauses giving herself or the person she is talking to time to gather their thoughts. Otherwise, Thanksgiving in Paradise is a fun read with a complicated plot and a successful resolution.

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: Could be read as a standalone, but be advised that it is #10 in the Tj Jensen Mystery Series.

Publication:   October 8, 2019—Henery Press

Memorable Lines:

I’m the worst person ever,” I said to Jenna two hours later after we settled in at her kitchen table with cups of coffee. “The worst person ever? Wow, that’s quite a claim. I imagine you have some sort of evidence to back up such a grandiose statement?”

I knew that I was doing what I have a tendency to do, which was to make things a lot more complicated than they needed to be.

It’s rare for the entire staff of a high school to be a fan of the principal, but in Greg’s case I can’t think of a single staff member who doesn’t admire and truly like him.

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