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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.

A Stranger’s Game–from the boardroom to a boardgame

A Stranger’s Game

by Colleen Coble

Torie Berg introduces herself at Jekyll Island Club Resort as their new IT specialist. In reality, as the daughter of the owner of a huge resort chain, she spent her early childhood there. After eighteen years she has returned to find out what happened to her best friend Lisbeth who recently died while tracking down leads on Torie’s mother’s death.

Someone recognizes Torie and wants her to abandon her investigation. Who knows how far this creepy person will go in intimidating her and what their motive might be. Is it personal or does it have anything to do with the war games the Navy is conducting? Is Torie getting too close to the truth or does this involve the many important visitors the hotel is expecting for a major financial meeting?

Joe Abbott trains dolphins to intercept saboteurs and lives at the resort with his eight year old daughter Hailey in exchange for providing security. He is caught up in issues with the Navy when Simon, a dolphin he is training, catches a diver planting a bomb. As Torie’s neighbor on Jekyll Island, Joe becomes involved in protecting her from a mysterious stalker. He has not been interested in dating in the three years since his wife died, but he is attracted to Torie and she is drawn to his daughter Hailey as they share a sense of loss that both experienced in losing their mothers as children.

A Stranger’s Game is a fast-paced mystery that includes some psychological creepiness and suspense, but not enough for me to classify it as a thriller. It has a touch of clean romance, but the emphasis is on the plot. The Jekyll Island Club Resort setting is critical to the story. The characters are allowed to develop as the story progresses. The novel contains adventure and three major plot lines along with cross threads that give the book both color and cohesion. I did not guess the identity of the criminals behind the detailed plotting of various crimes or those who executed the plans. Well done! Colleen Coble has created a standalone that will send you looking for more of her books.

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

Rating: 5/5

Category: Mystery, Christian Fiction, Romantic Suspense

Notes: Standalone

Publication: January 4, 2022—Thomas Nelson Fiction

Memorable Lines:

“It’s hard to understand even for adults. But evil things happen to all of us, honey. Hard things, bad things. We don’t understand and a lot of the time, we can’t understand because we aren’t God. When those times come—and they come to everyone—all we can do is trust that God loves us.”

“By its very nature, life involves loss. If we stop taking chances, stop living our lives, we might as well crawl in the grave and let someone kick the dirt over us. Real life is worth the risk.”

The reserve she’d donned all her life had made ruts through her soul, tracks she followed like a mule plodding a well-worn trail.

Cliff Hanger–plans that go awry

Cliff Hanger

by Mary Feliz

Cliff HangerAs Maggie McDonald and her family look forward to a working vacation at Monterey Bay, California, they could not imagine that it would turn into a nightmare. Sons David and Brian help rescue a crashed ultralight pilot, but their quick thinking and heroic actions could backfire in a legal maelstrom. 

In Mary Feliz’s Cliff Hanger, Maggie tries to protect her sons and accomplish her organizing job at the resort that hired her, but there are complications at every turn with farmers in conflict, possible drug running, and alien deportation. It’s hard to know who to trust so the family enlists the help of crime fighting friends from their hometown, Orchard View. Their pet golden retriever, Belle, and their friend Stephen’s service dog, Munchkin, a drooling mastiff, have large supporting roles and are a welcome addition to the character list.

I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Kensington Books (Lyrical Underground) 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 Maggie McDonald Mystery Series, but works as a standalone.

  2. Each chapter begins with a tip for vacationing families from Maggie’s organizing notebook. Many of the ideas are helpful for daily car use or for those who live on the beach.

  3. In addition to formal tips for making life easier, the author weaves handy ideas into the body of the story as well as showing how a family can respond to stresses in a healthy way.

Publication:   July 16, 2019—Lyrical Underground (Kensington Books)

Memorable Lines:

“The tricky part will be managing the news outlets and social media. Their attacks can be swifter, harsher, and more reactionary than the law. Lucky for you, we’ve just hired two people who are experts in that arena. We all need to become adept at fending off slings and arrows in cyberspace.”

I shuddered, both in fear of the tales I’d heard of exploding methamphetamine labs and in sympathy for the people for whom near-slavery in the United States meant a better life than staying in the countries in which they’d been born. My skin prickled as my thoughts traveled from the desperate to those who preyed upon them.

Max placed a plate of warm cookies on the table. The fragrance lured David from his room, and we had a moment of silent appreciation of the stress-busting properties of chocolate and refined carbohydrates.

Mother’s Day Mayhem–fun novella

Mother’s Day Mayhem

by Lynn Cahoon

Mother's Day MayhemYou don’t have to have a good relationship with your mother or your child to enjoy Lynn Cahoon’s Mother’s Day Mayhem. This novella provides a quick, enjoyable, themed read. Lynn Cahoon is a big proponent of “sometimes, the family you make is just as strong or stronger than blood.” Another nice feature of this book is that although there are mysteries (where ARE those missing garden gnomes?), there are no murders.

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: a novella in the Tourist Trap series

Publication:  April 2, 2019—Kensington

Memorable Lines:

Life was good. Or it would have been if Greg hadn’t thrown a stone in the pond. Now, I had to deal with the ripples his request had caused.

“You’re never making a mistake by making yourself vulnerable. You’d regret it more if you didn’t take a chance.”

“Bite me,” the kid called back, speeding up even more. Greg sighed. “Not my circus, not my monkey. But if it was, that kid would be sitting in my office waiting for his folks to come and get him. Sometimes people need to know that respect is an important part of building a community.”

Reason to Doubt–stopping a serial killer

Reason to Doubt

by Nancy Cole Silverman

Reason to DoubtIn Reason to Doubt, Carol Childs, a forty year old divorced mother of two works as an investigative reporter for a small southern CA talk radio station. She is currently involved in trying to find the serial killer known as Model Slayer because of his choice of victims and his trademarks at the crime scene. This investigation takes Carol into some seedy places and dangerous situations. It also puts her in direct conflict with her daughter Cate at the same time she is trying to prove Cate’s boyfriend’s innocence. She finds herself in conflict with the official investigation as she protects her confidential sources.

The plot is complicated and although the crimes are solved, the psychological motivation is hinted at but not specified. At times it feels like the investigation is circular, not really going anywhere. Cate is a major driver of the storyline, but she is not well developed. What I knew of her, I didn’t like; she is immature and selfish. On the positive side, she does  stand up for the person she believed in, but she could be a poster child for a “love is blind” movement. The ending is a surprise because it is not a conclusion you would expect from Carol’s research, but I had my suspicions about that character from the time of his introduction into the plot. Despite those criticisms, I did like the book and would recommend it.

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 Carol Childs Mystery Series

Publication:  November 6, 2018—Henery Press

Memorable Lines:

As a reporter, it was my job to take what a confidential informant gave me, verify that information with a second and third source, and report it. If word got out a reporter had rolled over and given up to the police what information had been given to us in confidence, that reporter would be burned and the station toast.

I had reported on enough police investigations to know how overworked many LAPD detectives were and how easy it was to coerce a nervous witness. Under the right circumstances, people confessed to all kinds of things.

Tyler didn’t have to tell me reporters who squealed to the police about their confidential sources and what they told them would be out of luck when it came to finding another job. Sources wouldn’t trust them, and potential employers had a pool of fresh young talent to choose from as opposed to a reporter who had burned her sources.

Beaches in Paradise–suspenseful plot

Beaches in Paradise

by Kathi Daley

Beaches in ParadiseWhen you read a book in the Tj Jensen Mystery Series, you can count on  a solid cozy mystery with likable main characters, strong family ties, and a good plot. Beaches in Paradise is a no exception. Maggie’s Hideaway is a family owned resort on Paradise Lake where Maggie works part-time when she is not busy as the local P.E. teacher and soccer coach. Maggie is also raising her two half-sisters and slowly developing her relationship with Kyle. Both enjoy functioning as a team to help solve local mysteries. What Maggie doesn’t enjoy is her confrontational encounters with Paradise’s new deputy Kate who warns Maggie off of amateur sleuthing and displays subtle hints of interest in Kyle.

Maggie involves herself in a murder and disappearance when an unpopular businessman is found dead in a wrecked car and her friend Gina is nowhere to be found. I had to suspend belief a little in considering the lengths Maggie went to find Gina. The action would have been more convincing if more background on Gina and Maggie’s two year friendship had been provided. Gina teaches math and Maggie P.E. at the local high school.There are no further details to support the strong bond they are supposed to have.

Plot is one of the main strengths of Beaches in Paradise. Three-fourths of the way through the book, after many interviews and lots of twists and turns, a huge part of the mystery is solved and everyone breathes a sigh of relief. There is more suspense to come, however, and it extends quite engagingly all the way to the second surprise ending. This is a solid series and one you will enjoy.

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

Rating: 5/5

Category: General Fiction (Adult), Mystery

Notes: #9 in the Tj Jensen Mystery Series, but is OK as a standalone.

Publication:  July 17, 2018 — Henery Press

Memorable Lines:

Once we were ready, Kyle and I climbed into the van with our troupe of geriatric sleuths. I hated to put the men in danger, but I knew they were clearheaded adults able to make up their own minds.

“More than anyone I know, you always make sure the people you care for are all right.”

Treasure in Paradise–family style resort

Treasure in Paradise

by Kathi Daley

Treasure in ParadiseHaving read the first book in the Tj Jensen Paradise Lake Mystery Series, I was eager to read the newly released seventh book, Treasure in Paradise. It opens with the captivating “There is magic in beginnings.”

I must admit that although Tj Jensen stumbles onto a crime scene in the first chapter, it took me a little while to orient myself. I don’t think the fault of the confusion lies with the author but with my expectations. The series up to this point is set in a family owned resort in the mountains in Serenity, Nevada. In this book we find Tj spending the summer supervising the restoration of Turtle Cove Resort in South Carolina for a family friend who has had a stroke. She brings along four familiar faces, but we are also introduced to a whole new cast of characters.

Treasure in Paradise has interesting characters whom Tj and the reader meet in her efforts to discover the killer of the man she found murdered at the resort and a long lost treasure map of pirate vintage. She also has conflicts with a resort developer and a sheriff who seems to be hiding something. There are some relationship developments as Tj struggles with two half-sisters uprooted for the summer, her friend Kyle, and her father’s impending marriage.

I recommend this cozy mystery and am looking forward to the next one in the series, Fireworks in Paradise, to be released in October of 2017.

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

Rating: 4/5

Category: Mystery, General Fiction (Adult)

Notes: This series is one of five created by Kathi Daley

Publication:   April 11, 2017—Henery Press

Memorable Lines:

There is magic in beginnings. some beginnings come as a rite of passage, such as a graduation from college, the birth of a child, or a wedding day. Other beginnings start off more subtly, as nothing more than an ordinary moment that evolves into a crucial event that, in the end, helps define who you are and who you will become.

“…even if you find Prince Charming and he’s everything that you ever thought you’d want, sometimes that isn’t enough. My grandmother used to say that love isn’t logical, that sometimes you just have to trust your heart to find the other half of itself.”

I knew in my heart that sometimes seeking justice wasn’t justified at all.

Closeups from the Beach

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A little collection of some of my favorite closeups from the beach:

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A bowl of newly hatched turtles awaiting release at dusk, the time of greatest safety

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A welcoming display of bougainvillea on the porch

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Nothing says the beach like coconut trees!

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I love burros so I thought it was perfect that our casita should have this tiled decoration.

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A peek at the huge palapa at Roberto’s Bistro

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