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Carolina Breeze–social media disaster

Carolina Breeze

by Denise Hunter

When an innkeeper desperate to fulfill his promise to his father to take care of his sisters is introduced to the world of glamorous movie stars and paparazzi, his own world is turned upside down. Levi Bennett tries to fix everything for everybody, but he takes on more than he can handle when he meets the gorgeous Mia Emerson retreating from heartbreak and a scandal.

Beautiful Bluebell, N.C., is the perfect place for Mia to recover with the sympathetic and discreet Bennett siblings taking up her cause. Romance is in the air for Levi and Mia as well as for Levi’s sister Molly who was the focus of the first book in the series. Just when things start to look up, there are realistic twists and turns that shake things up for the characters. But disasters and surprises can be part of God’s plan, and He can bring good out of them as the characters in Carolina Breeze by Denise Hunter, a clean romance with a bit of mystery, soon discover. 

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

Rating: 5/5

Category: Romance

Notes: #2 in the Bluebell Inn Series, but works well as a standalone.

Publication:   May 19, 2020—Thomas Nelson

Memorable Lines:

Using people is wrong. Using their feelings against them is even worse.

It was time to get serious about her faith again. She was learning to let down her walls with people, but she needed to let God in too. Him, most of all.

The movie had been going on for a while, but her mind was on other things…All of it was tangled up in her head like last year’s Christmas lights.

Frozen Stiff Drink–perfect title

Frozen Stiff Drink

by James J. Cudney

Frozen Stiff DrinkBoth clues and motives for murder abound in Frozen Stiff Drink, the latest addition to James J. Cudney’s Braxton Campus Mystery Series. With each book, I think the plot threads can’t get more tangled than in the previous books, but they do! With a cast of characters that will intrigue you, draw you in, and evoke strong reactions, this cozy mystery will provide you with all the distraction you need during this time of shelter in place.

Kellan has a history of finding dead bodies since he returned to Wharton County; but his girlfriend, Sheriff April Montague, has finally begun to accept that he doesn’t go looking for trouble. With the series’ usual large number of characters, this book holds a challenge when trying to sort through the many relationships, but the author helps out with a list of characters including their connections to other characters.

I enjoyed Frozen Stiff Drink all the way to the conclusion where my jaw dropped as the many plot threads were resolved, and several new issues dramatically appeared beckoning me into delightful anticipation of the next installment 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: 5/5

Category: Mystery

Notes: #6 in the Braxton Campus Mystery Series—could be read as a standalone, but the reader would need to be ready to work a little at sorting characters and absorbing backgrounds.

Publication:   March 18, 2019—Gumshoe (Next Chapter)

Memorable Lines:

Constance’s frightening premonition cracked holes in the perimeter of my skull like a determined woodpecker in search of its next meal.

“That girl is as useless as a pair of chopsticks scooping pebbles in a bowl of soup while riding a scooter on a high wire.”

“I am not the bread bowl. I am the dessert. The last thing you want and the only thing you need. The part you will remember for the rest of the night.”

Silent Knit, Deadly Knit–knitting with friends

Silent Knit, Deadly Knit

by Peggy Ehrhart

Silent Knit, Deadly KnitVarious cozy mystery series stand out for special strengths. The strong point might be humor, breathtaking setting, fast pace, intricate plot, or interesting characters. Peggy Ehrhart’s Knit & Nibble Mystery Series is different from most in its genre. The main character, Pamela, is calmer. The pace is slower. The descriptions of everyday life are more detailed. And somehow the combination works. Ehrhart’s latest mystery, Silent Knit, Deadly Knit, is no exception. Set in the Christmas season, we get to join Pamela, her daughter Penny who is home from college, and their friends and neighbors as they celebrate the Christmas season while trying to discover who murdered their friend.

Silent Knit, Deadly Knit provides a nice break from the overly sweet seasonal romances. The characters are not depicted as saints. Pamela  struggles with letting her daughter gain her independence. Bettina pushes her friend Pamela to make a connection with a single neighbor. The plot does not get lost in all the character interaction, however. There are deadly doings in little Arborville, and Pamela and her friends are caught up in the action. My favorite character is Bettina’s retired husband, Wilfred—always a helpful gentleman, but never stuffy.

As the crime is being solved, Pamela and the reader work through various theories. When the character who appears to be the murderer is found murdered, the investigation takes a whole new direction resulting in a surprise ending.

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 Knit & Nibble Mystery Series, but is excellent as a standalone!

  2. At the end of the book, there is a recipe for a poppy seed cake and directions for knitting fingerless gloves.

Publication:   October 29, 2019—Kensington Books

Memorable Lines:

A soft form stirred at her feet, migrated up the side of her leg, and inched its way delicately across her torso. It eased its head out from under the down comforter that Pamela used on chilly winter nights. Two amber eyes stared at her from a heart-shaped face covered with silky jet-black fur.

Pamela was a kind person, but she occasionally enjoyed the slight feeling of power that came from having a secret to share. Bettina’s lips, which today were a shade of deep orange that matched her coat, curved into a tiny smile that acknowledged she knew she was being strung along.

It was tempting, especially at holidays, to imagine a past in which joy had been unalloyed. But Pamela knew she’d been happy about some things, worried about others then too, just like now.

Mistaken Identity Crisis: Death on the Cable Car

Mistaken Identity Crisis: Death on the Cable Car

by James J. Cudney

Mistaken Identity CrisisI am sure that I have not read a more complex cozy mystery with regard to characters than Mistaken Identity Crisis. Author James J. Cudney had my head spinning with all of the intricate relationships in his story. Fortunately, he includes a categorized list of characters with brief descriptions for support if you get confused. To my surprise, I only referred to it a few times as the characters appear multiple times and Cudney puts them in context with references to their relationships and backgrounds. Therefore, they rapidly take on unique identities for the reader.

Along with an emphasis on characters, Cudney has devised a complicated plot with more than one mystery. Hop aboard the campus cable car to find a dead body, intrigue with stolen jewels, and symbolic black calla lilies. Kellan, a professor at Braxton, comes closer to resolution with his presumed dead wife Francesca and two warring mobs. Feisty Nana D takes office as the new mayor, and Kellan sees a new side of April, the local sheriff.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Mystery

Notes: 1. #4 in the Braxton Campus Mysteries, and I recommend reading this series in sequence.

  2. Includes a helpful map and list of characters

Publication:   June 30, 2019—Creativa

Memorable Lines:

I could only conclude that he was a bit of a chameleon, depending on the situation and balance of power in the relationship.

You are right, Kellan. I’ve been giving you mixed signals,” April said, offering one of the rare concessions I’d usually witness only during full moons in a leap year once a millennium.

Stress and fear plummeted inside me until they knocked my body out of balance and sent me careening against the stone pillar in the Stanton driveway.

Murder with Cucumber Sandwiches–secrets in the family

Murder with Cucumber Sandwiches

by Karen Rose Smith

Murder with Cucumber SandwichesAlong comes a fairly gentle cozy mystery in Murder with Cucumber Sandwiches by Karen Rose Smith that is half personal relationships and half murder mystery. Interestingly enough, Smith manages to tie in a lot of the personal issues with the murder. Daisy, a widow, owns Daisy’s Tea Garden with her Aunt Iris. This mystery begins with uncomfortable anticipation for Daisy and her staff caused by the upcoming visit by celebrity food blogger Derek, known for giving unfavorable reviews. He is found dead after his visit. 

There are so many questions about Derek’s death that Daisy must try to answer while juggling personal dilemmas with her college age daughter Vi and with Foster, Vi’s boyfriend, who is also an employee of Daisy. Her other daughter, Jazzi, is undergoing emotional trauma because of possible rejection by her birth mom. Daisy is moving slowly in her relationship with former detective and current local woodworker Jonas. Daisy’s parents live in the same town, and her mother tends to be critical. What a lot of things for Daisy to deal with at one time!

At the teashop, business is off because potential customers are deterred by the possibility of poisoning. Daisy needs to find the murderer to save her shop and her employees’ jobs. Her major method is listening as she informally interviews suspects and watches for their reactions. The characters are interesting, and I enjoy visits to the tea shop where all kinds of teas and goodies are available as well as more substantial fare such as soups. Before the murder, bus loads of tourists frequently stopped for tea, but the murder has squelched enthusiasm for the tea shop.  As the setting is Lancaster County in Pennsylvania, there are some Amish references as Daisy and Jonas interact with Amish friends and employees. Willow Creek is a welcoming little town, and Daisy’s Tea Garden, set in a charming Victorian house, is a comfortable spot to chat with a friend. Come on in! The tea is hot, the hostess is friendly, and the treats are (not literally) “to die for.”

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. #3 in the Daisy’s Tea Garden Mystery Series, but works well as a standalone thanks to the author’s ability to dive right into the plot while simultaneously providing background.

2. Three original recipes are included at the end of the book for items served in the tearoom.

Publication:   May 28, 2019—Kensington

Memorable Lines:

“I know a therapist who’s very good with teenagers. She has a cat who sits in on most sessions. She finds that Lancelot relaxes her clients. He’s very loving, and in that intuitive way cats have, he knows whether to come closer or stay away.”

Daisy felt as if she was living in more than one universe—one filled with the tea garden and friends and customers, tea and sweet goods. And the other with a family dilemma she didn’t know how to handle.

The tea might have been brewed for them, but by their expressions and body language, she could tell tension brewed between them.

Past Due for Murder–complications and resolutions

Past Due for Murder

by Victoria Gilbert

Past Due for MurderAmy, a library director, juggles many roles from hosting special events to encourage community involvement to maintaining an archive to preserve local history. In Victoria Gilbert’s Past Due for Murder, Amy finds herself in the middle of a myriad of questions. Some are personal and others extend to the community: Why is her boyfriend Richard acting differently and lying? What happened to the missing student Lacey? Why does graduate student Trish hate Lacey so deeply? Did Charles, Amy’s ex-boyfriend, steal another professor’s ideas and why is he back in town? Is there blackmail going on at Clarion University? Who would be motivated so strongly that they would commit murder? As Amy discovers the answers to some questions, more arise and they form a tangled mess which gets unraveled in the end. This cozy mystery is a page turner you won’t want to miss.

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: # 3 in the Blue Ridge Library Mystery Series, but works as a standalone.

Publication:   February 22, 2019—Crooked Lane Books

Memorable Lines:

I thanked her and went back to compiling statistics from our integrated library system. It was a part of my job that I hated, which made it a perfect match for my mood.

I stared at him, struck by the knowledge that his polished appearance couldn’t hide his true nature. He was obviously someone who always had to be right, who’d always demand blind obedience from his family and friends. In short, he was a bully, and no amount of tailoring and expensive haircuts or handcrafted shoes could hide that truth.

“Time don’t change who you are, just what you look like.”

Flower Power Trip–flowers at the heart of a mystery

Flower Power Trip

by James J. Cudney

Flower Power TripThe third cozy in the Braxton Campus Mystery series does not disappoint its fans nor leave out new readers. It begins with a helpful Who’s Who briefly describing the characters in the series. The first chapter follows up  with a summary of the action in the first two books as told by the main character Kellan, while getting the plot for the new book underway.

Kellan discovers a dead body and again finds himself in the middle of a homicide investigation. Flower Power Trip swirls delightfully with interesting characters, a multitude of clues, and humorous repartee. Several threads continue on from previous books: Kellan’s rocky relationships with his boss Myriam and Sheriff April Montague, Nana D’s bid for the mayoral seat, and Kellan’s presumed dead wife Francesca with ties to a mob family. There are also romantic conflicts and more than a little danger.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Mystery

Notes: #3 in the Braxton Campus Mystery Series but works quite well as a standalone

Publication:   March 30, 2019—Creativia 

Memorable Lines:

Helena recently celebrated her birthday by doing a pub crawl across all four villages in Wharton County. Eight hours, eight bars, eight different drinks. I wouldn’t have survived that level of commitment.

…”you are nothing but a nosy, interfering, non-stop questioning, painful wart on the tip of my pinky toe that has aggravated me beyond any reasonable expectation.”

…you must always have more physical books than e-books. I wanted Emma to experience a multitude of technology at her fingertips from an early age, but she also needed to respect and cherish all that our country had accomplished in the history of bookmaking and printing.

Late Bloomers: The Power of Patience in a World Obsessed with Early Achievement

Late Bloomers: The Power of Patience in a World Obsessed with Early Achievement

by Rich Karlgaard

Late BloomersI don’t think I have ever read an introduction as fascinating as Rich Karlgaard’s in Late Bloomers. With phrases like “trickle down societal madness for early achievement” he puts the reader into his world and his viewpoint. It’s not that he is opposed to the young people with scores of 800 on their SAT who create fantastic wealth in their early twenties. He does resent what our culture’s adoration of them does to the rest of us, those whose potential is downgraded because our star doesn’t rise at the same pace or shine as brightly. 

In Late Bloomers we are brought to an understanding of the history and psychology of the conveyer belt systems of education and business that have led us to the current sad state of affairs. Karlgaard explains how late bloomers struggle in this early achievement focused society and how society suffers for not valuing late bloomers. This book is replete with examples—J.K. Rowling, Einstein, and the author himself, to name a few—of late bloomers. It also carefully examines the available psychological research and what it tells us about late bloomers. A large portion of the book is devoted to sharing what late bloomers and society can do to make the whole system function more successfully.

As a teacher, I applaud Karlgaard’s revelation of the background of our harmful testing culture designed to create cogs in an industrial wheel. As a parent, I agree with his theories about development occurring in different ways and times for individuals. I am especially intrigued by the promotion of a “gap year” (or two) for young people, giving them extra time for brain development before they are expected to “adult.” I can see the need for viewing 18-25 as a stage of life when, for most, that important brain maturation in the prefrontal cortex is still in process.

The main body of the book is addressed to the late bloomer, which Karlgaard argues is most of us. It is full of research studies which interestingly support his advice to the late bloomer—how to survive in a world that disparages late blooming and how to, in fact, bloom despite a society that does not value late blooming. The introduction and first three chapters of this book should be required reading for every teacher, administrator, policy maker, business entrepreneur, parent, and concerned citizen. Did I leave anyone out? After that, most will want to finish the book. Especially the late bloomers out there, the ones who have not yet “found themselves” or met their full potential.

I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Crown Publishing (Currency) for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Self-Help, Education, Parenting

Notes: Rich Karlgaard, self-proclaimed late bloomer, is the publisher of Forbes Media, an author, and the founder of several businesses.

Publication:   April 16, 2019—Crown Publishing (Currency)

Memorable Lines:

Being seen as a potential late bloomer was once a mark of vitality, patience, and pluck. Nowadays, more and more, it is seen as a defect (there must be a reason you started slowly, after all) and a consolation prize. This is an awful trend, since it diminishes the very things that make us human—our experiences, our resilience, and our lifelong capacity to grow.

Just when we should be encouraging kids to dream big, take risks, and learn from life’s inevitable failures, we’re teaching them to live in terror of making the slightest mistake.

…social media has now become our most toxic cultural mirror.

Reducing education to test preparation jeopardizes the quality of curricula and the craft of teaching. It drains education of humanity.

Broken Heart Attack–good series

Broken Heart Attack

by James J. Cudney

broken heart attackThe best way for me to describe the beginning of Broken Heart Attack is “hyperactive,” a label which is meant to be descriptive, not positive or negative. Author James J. Cudney packs a lot into the first several chapters as he brings readers up to speed on the events in the first book of the series and introduces a complex plot with a lot of characters.

The main mystery of Broken Heart Attack centers around the Paddington family, murder, and a missing will. Unfortunately, the Paddington family is quite dysfunctional, and there is not one member of the family that I could relate to or invest myself in. In other words, by the end of the book, I really didn’t care who the murderer was.

A side issue to the murder is a paternity case. Other stories that affect the main character, Kellan, continue from the first book but make little progress: the reappearance of a presumed dead wife, conflict with co-worker Myriam, a potential love triangle involving friends Connor and Maggie, and a possible softening in his relationship with Sheriff Montague.

I purchased this book; it was not an advance copy. Therefore, I was surprised to see a number of errors. Some were obviously a case of  autocorrect gone wrong, some were spelling, and some were, more egregiously, pronoun usage. This is particularly startling because the author rarely has errors in his posted book reviews.

On the positive side, Nana D continues to provide humor and Kellan is a likeable character. Would I read another book in this cozy mystery series? Absolutely! I would particularly like to see what happens as Kellan is pressured by his wife’s mob family, the Castiglianos. I would urge the author to write the next book at a less frenetic pace with more character development. He has the beginnings of a good series with interesting plots and a college setting that provides a background with multiple possibilities. The Braxton Campus Mystery Series definitely has a lot of potential.

Rating: 4/5

Category: Mystery

Notes: #2 in the Braxton Campus Mystery Series. It could be read as a standalone, but would be more fun in sequence.

Publication:   November 25, 2018—Creativia

Memorable Lines:

I loved my nana, but her friends were harder to handle than standing upside down catching a greasy pig in a mud slide.

Eustacia and Nana D had some sort of symbiotic relationship where they often couldn’t stand to be around one another but if ever two days went by without time for tea or gossip, the world might’ve come to an end.

I woke up Thursday morning with a hangover so painful my head had put out a foreclosure sign.

Slay in Character–mystery at a writers’ retreat

Slay in Character

Slay in Character

There are a few cozy mystery writers that just get it right every time, and Lynn Cahoon is one of them. The Cat Latimer Mystery Series features Cat Latimer, an author and former professor, who has a large Victorian home in Warm Springs, Colorado. There she monthly holds weeklong writers’ retreats. In Slay in Character, the guests are historical romance authors from a writing group in Connecticut, joined by Jessi, a student from the local college. On their visit to a neighboring ghost town, a murder is uncovered and it is just the first of many misadventures that appear to focus on Jessi. The older women take Jessi under their wing and they, along with Cat, her uncle Pete who is the local police chief, her boyfriend Seth, and Shauna, her friend and chef, try to discover who is targeting Jessi.

These women know how to eat! I think I gained ten pounds just reading about all the sweet treats provided at the retreat in addition to lunches and dinners at restaurants. It was interesting to get a behind-the-scenes look at a writers’ retreat. Cat has established a schedule involving speakers, outings, and lots of time for writing, which is, of course, the central part of their efforts. Cat is always looking for new ideas to improve her program and encourage return visits. The notion that main characters who are editors or writers are difficult to make interesting is put to rest in this cozy mystery where there is plenty of action. The plot twists in this book will keep you glued to the pages and wanting more. I did not guess the identity of the murderer, but his motivation ties it all together in the end. Lynn Cahoon has three series going. I can’t wait to read her next book, regardless of which series inspires her imagination.

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 Cat Latimer Mystery Series, but works well as a standalone.

  2. Recipe for Blueberry Coffee Cake included.

Publication:   November 27, 2018—Kensington Books

Memorable Lines:

Joseph John smiled, and Cat realized the guy could sell ice water to people in a snowstorm.

The act had been foolhardy and dangerous. something she wouldn’t have even let her fictional character perform because of fear of being labeled Too Stupid to Live.

“Writing is less about inspiration and more about perspiration. You have to work to get the words down, they just don’t magically appear on the page.”

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