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by Catherine Bruns
A cozy mystery about a chef whose heritage and passion is Italian cuisine? Count me in! Penne Dreadful by Catherine Bruns is filled with food references from the beginning “Italians are passionate about almost everything in the world, and food is at the top of the list” to recipes for sauce, pizza, and stromboli at the end. In between, you will find a solid plot and interesting characters.
Five weeks prior to the story’s action, Tessa’s husband, Dylan, was killed in a car accident. Tess walks around in a trance until she learns that the crash may not have been an accident and neither her husband nor her marriage was what she thought they were. Secrets and evil minded souls abound, and it seems her husband was one of them. The discovery jolts Tess out of her grieving stupor and into action putting herself and her friends in danger as she tries to uncover the truth.
I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Sourcebooks Landmark for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Notes: #1 in the Italian Chef Mystery Series
Publication: July 30, 2019—Sourcebooks Landmark
Luigi’s V-8 engine noises continued while I filled his food dish with star-shaped kitty crunches, and then he couldn’t scramble out of my arms fast enough.
“…you don’t ever want to get on Izzy’s bad side. That broad has enough venom in her to make a snake jealous.”
That was one of the beauties about New York weather. It might be ninety degrees one day, and forty the next. Unpredictable, the same as life.
The Printed Letter Bookshop
by Katherine Reay
This fictional work opens with the rather stark and extremely well attended funeral of Maddie and shares the perspectives of her estranged, but much loved, niece Madeline and of Janet and Claire, two ladies who are employees and friends of Maddie. What follows takes us into the lives and families of all of these ladies. They struggle with work and relationships, but Maddie leaves each an encouraging letter listing books that will help them in their life journeys. Maddie has a reputation for matching up readers with just the right book. Life is a battle for each of these ladies, and there is some characteristic in one or more of them that readers can identify with.
Part of The Printed Letter Bookshop draws attention to Proverbs 31 in the Bible which describes a wise woman and provides a model for the characters in forming their aspirations. I followed the ups and downs of the characters with hopes for successful resolutions to their problems. Will Madeline continue on her intended path to become a successful law partner? Will the town’s beloved bookshop survive during an online economy and after some bad business decisions? Can Janet find restoration with her husband and children? Is there a way for Claire to be a good mom while meeting her own needs? The story builds at an adequate pace as we are introduced to the characters and storyline, but accelerates towards the end as things come to a head for each of the characters in solving their personal dilemmas. Although there is closure for each of the ladies, it is not a puffy pink, cotton candy kind of resolution. There are surprises, heartbreaks, and difficult situations along the way as they learn what is important, how to forgive, and the need to avoid jumping to conclusions based on appearances.
I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Thomas Nelson for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Category: Romance, Women’s Fiction, Christian Fiction
Notes: I would LOVE to visit this bookstore!
Publication: May 14 , 2019—Thomas Nelson
You can miss your family so much you have to look down to see your chest rise and fall, to confirm that it hasn’t been cut open and you’re not bleeding out and you’re still breathing. Friends can’t hurt you like that, nor can they fill that fissure.
“I remember Aunt Maddie saying you could lose yourself in a book and, paradoxically, find yourself as well.”
I do remember that his resignation ignited my anger. Anger always comes first for me. Anger keeps embarrassment, humiliation, shame, all manner of painful emotions at bay—for a time. But it requires so much fuel. And while it burned hot that night, and for a couple weeks after, it soon flickered out. Shame replaced it, and shame doesn’t need much fuel to thrive. It can live on tiny nibbles for years, possibly a lifetime.
The Library of the Lost and Found
by Phaedra Patrick
The Library of Lost and Found is Martha’s story woven by author Phaedra Patrick into a tapestry of several generations of women trying to survive, to see their way through. The background is emotional abuse and family secrets. Martha devotes her life to caring for her aging parents, Betty and Thomas, and later trying to please her contacts at the library where she volunteers. Because Martha does not value her own contributions, no one else appreciates her. As a child, Martha is imaginative and creative and her flamboyant nana, Zelda, encourages her to be a storyteller. Unfortunately Martha’s inventiveness is in direct conflict with the wishes of her overbearing father.
The basic plot line-up to this point in the story appears fairly straight forward, but much more conflict brews beneath the surface. There are past romantic entanglements that affect Martha and her sister Lilian. Zelda disappears from Martha’s life and is proclaimed dead. The past and its secrets affect the present and the future.
One of the fun characters is Suki, a young, single, pregnant co-worker with a tendency to misuse words. For example, speaking of her baby’s father she says “He says he can’t make up his mind between us. I’ll have to give him a culmination.” “Do you mean an ultimatum?” She may not always use words correctly, but she believes in Martha and ends up being an encourager for her as Martha takes steps to find her independence.
There are lots of surprises along the way as figurative skeletons in the closet are revealed and as Martha finds herself again. The Library of Lost and Found is appealing to book lovers as books, libraries, bookstores, writing and reading all play important roles. Its appeal spreads wider though as it addresses universal issues of power and control, love, whimsy, family, and self-worth, and their emotional impact.
I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Harlequin (Park Row) for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Category: General Fiction (Adult)
Publication: March 26, 2019—Harlequin (Park Row)
She often felt like there was an electrical storm around him, and she could sense it crackling now, between him and Zelda.
She didn’t usually feel jealous, but as she watched her mother and daughter, it crept over her now like winter frost across a window.
“Why does something have to last forever to be classed as successful? Surely it’s okay to give things a try.”
by Jo Bannister
Gabriel Ash, formerly a security analyst with the British government, has recently been released from mental health care. He has opened a second hand book shop, Rambles with Books. He has also been reunited with his two sons after a four year separation as a result of his wife’s illegally taking the boys. All should be relatively smooth sailing in the Ash household, but that is not the case. Ash’s good friend, Constable Hazel Best, drives to school to pick up the boys, and she sees them and their nanny being accosted in what appears to be a kidnapping attempt.
The plot of Kindred Spirits rapidly becomes complicated as the older boy, Gilbert, insists that only the nanny was being forced into the van. This fast-moving police procedural by Jo Bannister puts on display not only how the police investigate crimes, but also the behind-the-scenes politics. Neither Hazel nor Detective Inspector Dave Gorman are armchair detectives. The same can be said about Ash when those he cares about are personally threatened. All three are motivated by doing what is right. When an old case clashes with the events of a new case, they refuse to turn a blind eye. The results are dangerous, and you won’t want to stop reading until the mystery is resolved.
I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Severn House for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Category: Mystery, Police Procedural
Notes: #5 in the Hazel Best and Gabriel Ash Mystery Series. This was the first book in the series for me to read, and I had no problem catching up with the background.
Publication: September 1, 2018—Severn House
Perhaps he was the last man in England—the last man in the civilized world—to enjoy the sensation, both sensual and intellectual, of paper pages curling away under his fingers. Of words, and the ideas they encoded, waiting for him to find them—and staying close at hand after he’d read them, in case he needed to flick back a page or two to check something.
She had less and less patience with hard feelings and petty jealousies. She did her job, and did it well; being liked was an optional extra. It wasn’t something that she’d ever struggled with before, but if it came to a choice between being popular and doing what she believed to be right, she had broad shoulders.
Gorman knew that Jerome Harbinger was sixty-eight. If he hadn’t known, he’d have thought he was ten years older than that. His craggy face was savaged by deep lines that had nothing to do with laughter and everything to do with bitter unhappiness.
Rockets’ Dead Glare
by Lynn Cahoon
I am not usually attracted to novellas, but I really enjoy Lynn Cahoon’s cozy mysteries so I decided to give Rockets’ Dead Glare a try and I’m glad I did. A short, but satisfying mystery with a different sort of resolution and a happy ending.
There are a number of suspects with good reasons to want to see Barry, South Cove’s volunteer fire chief, dead, but who would actually commit the horrifying deed? Two members of Barry’s volunteer fire department have shady backgrounds, but neither Jill, owner of the local coffeeshop and bookstore, nor her detective boyfriend Greg thinks either one is capable of murder. Who wanted Barry dead and how was the murder committed? Will the toxicology reports produce evidence? The answers lie in this outstanding novella.
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.
Notes: This novella is part of the Tourist Trap Series, but works well as a standalone.
Publication: June 5, 2018—Kensington Press (Lyrical Underground)
The smell of french fries makes me happy. I’m not proud of this fact, but it’s the truth. I needed the salt, carbs, and fat today. Stress eating is my specialty.
And as I leaned into him, I realized it was a happy day. And for a second, I let the gratitude of the moment wash over me. Life right now was perfect and wonderful. Tomorrow’s problems could wait until tomorrow. Today I was happy.
by Susan M. Boyer
In Lowcountry Bookshop, Susan M. Boyer outdoes her last cozy mystery which I thought was good. In this book Liz Talbot and her husband Nate, both private investigators, are hired anonymously through an attorney to prove the innocence of a very sweet mail carrier who stopped at the scene of a hit and run. The plot is very complex and involves a group of women who try to help victims of domestic violence.
Watching Liz and Nate go about their business of investigating the crime and the people involved is very interesting. They have tools, disguises, and methods that they use to pursue the truth regardless of where it leads them.
In the middle of some pretty intense scenarios, there is a little comic relief as Liz’s family deals with a situation involving a Bassett hound, a pig with a broken leg, three escape artist goats, and a backyard dug in preparation for a swimming pool. As you can imagine, “Mamma ain’t happy” and everyone knows it.
Set in the Charlestown area of South Carolina, Lowcountry Bookshop features heat, humidity, and Southern charm. This mystery will keep you on your toes as you follow its complexities and guess who did it and why—right up until the end.
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.
Category: General Fiction (Adult), Mystery
Notes: 1. #7 in the Liz Talbot Mystery Series but works as a standalone
2. Slight paranormal aspect: One character is a helpful guardian spirit. Frankly, she contributes little to the solving of the mystery and could easily be removed without harming the plot.
Publication: May 29, 2018—Henery Press
Sunday morning arrived on air as thick as mamma’s gravy.
At five in the morning, it was already eighty-three degrees.
Everyone had baggage. Some of us had heavier bags than others.
To Kill a Hummingbird
by J.R. Ripley
I enjoy word play so I was immediately attracted by the title of J.R. Ripley’s To Kill a Hummingbird. This is the fourth book in his Bird Lover’s Mystery Series with two more waiting in the “wings.” This cozy mystery gets off to a slow start with rather stilted dialogue. Ripley spends the requisite amount of time introducing his characters and setting the stage, but the story just seems to drag as the former professor of Birds and Bees shop owner, Amy Simms, arrives in Ruby Lake, North Carolina, for a book signing. The book rambles on for four chapters with the only suspense being the alcoholic state of the professor.
The author includes some interesting information on hummingbirds, but often the inclusion seems forced. I do think, however, that this is a book bird aficionados will really enjoy. My opinion of the book grew steadily more positive as the plot increased in complexity and as the characters interacted with each other. There were interesting twists to the plot as Amy and her boyfriend Derek try to determine who is responsible for several murders. Unfortunately, after the mystery is solved, the author attempts some comic relief which is both unsuccessful and unwanted.
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.
Notes: #4 in the Bird Lover’s Mystery Series
Publication: July 11, 2017— Kensington Books (Lyrical Underground)
“Sometimes when you see a hummingbird hovering over a flower, it isn’t because it’s about to feed on nectar—it could very well be that the bird has spotted a tasty spider or even an insect trapped in a spider’s web.”
Hospitality and Homicide
by Lynn Cahoon
Hospitality and Homicide is the eighth book in the Tourist Trap Mysteries. I have not read any others in the series, but the number of characters are limited and it was easy to jump into the story. The plot is fairly simple; too much emphasis is on the characters’ everyday lives, rather than on the mystery. Halfway into the book the reader knows with certainty Jill’s daily activities, her favorite dessert, her relationship issues, etc. Despite that, the author details them over and over throughout the book. There are undoubtedly some tense moments and some twists, but no cliffhangers. Another issue was the disappearance of a boy. It was unclear how long he had been missing, making that thread somewhat unbelievable. I did enjoy the book and was curious as to how the mysteries would be resolved, but it was not outstanding.
This book has two main plot threads—a brutal murder and a disappearance. One of them involves a psychic who communes with spirits. As a Christian, I usually avoid books with paranormal aspects, but this one slipped under my radar. Initially the theme seemed mild. At the end there was an unresolved issue as to why the psychic was successful in one case and not in another. Holding even more impact for me, however, was the statement made by police detective Greg about someone who committed a horrific, sadistic murder: “I don’t believe in evil, but if I did, this guy would be the picture next to the dictionary definition.” The Bible makes it clear that evil exists, and I would think that anyone who reads news reports would be convinced of that as well. Regardless, I want to clarify that the viewpoint of this book is not a reflection of my beliefs, nor is it a Biblical viewpoint. In looking at teasers of other books in this series, I did not see evidence that the other books in the series contain paranormal elements.
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.
Notes: #8 in the Tourist Trap Mystery series. Contains paranormal elements.
Publication: May 16, 2017—Kensington Books
“Honey, I don’t have to make you sound like a wimp. When it comes to other people, you are a pushover. Everyone in town knows that.”
I know, I own a bookstore and I should be anti-e-readers. But honestly, I’m more concerned that people read than exactly how they read.
A readers’s pride and joy is having an author personally sign their copies of well-loved stories. That’s the reason bookstores will never be replaced by the e-reader. People need their keeper shelves.