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Nacho Average Murder–chemical danger in Santa Barbara

Nacho Average Murder

by Maddie Day

Robbie Jordan leaves wintry Indiana for a week’s vacation in sunny Santa Barbara. The initial draw is her tenth high school reunion, but she is excited to catch up with two of her best friends from her high school years, Alana and Jason, who will also be attending. It is fun for Robbie to revisit locales from her childhood, but the trip is tinged with sadness as her mom passed away two years prior.

Robbie finds herself in the midst of several investigations that may be tied together. There is a murder, and Robbie wonders if it could be connected to her own mother’s death as both of the deceased were young to be afflicted with the diagnosed aneurysms. She becomes involved in an ongoing battle between concerned citizens and Walter Russom of Agrosafe, a company that manufactures a spray on fumigant that is making workers and animals in nearby fields very sick. Russom’s daughter Katherine was a dominating force back in their high school days and is still making her presence felt. There are other persons of interest that lead Robbie and Alana down new areas of investigation, and Robbie seems to have danger following her by car and on foot. She wonders if it is real or if she being paranoid.

Maddie Day’s Nacho Average Murder, besides its great title, is an all-round good cozy mystery. Don’t start reading this while you are hungry. Robbie, who runs a B&B/restaurant back home, is staying at a South of the Border styled B&B. It has Mexican flavor extending from Carmen, the charming hostess, and Mamá, her Spanish speaking mother, who are excellent cooks, to the colorful Southwestern decor. Robbie also tries out a lot of the local restaurants so we are treated to descriptions of yummy dishes beginning with king crab ceviche appetizer and delicious guacamole. With Carmen’s blessing, Robbie takes pictures to remind her of the food and stores away ideas for her own B&B. Mamá, who could win tortilla making speed records, even teaches Robbie how to flatten out tortillas by hand. 

Start reading this book because it is part of an excellent series, keep reading to solve the murder, and revisit this cozy to try out some of its recipes. It’s almost like a mini vacation. Put on your shorts and sandals and enjoy the beach, the food, and the scenery. You’ll meet some great characters and maybe even a few of the local alpacas.

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. #7 in the Country Store Mystery Series, but it is perfect as a standalone because the main character is away from the usual setting and cast of characters.

  2. Includes 6 delicious sounding recipes.

Publication:   June 30, 2020—Kensington Books

Memorable Lines:

“Remember when we came here on that double date our junior year?”    She groaned. “With those twins, Whoosit and What’s His Name? That was a disaster and a half.”    “No kidding.” I snorted.

“You came!” She walked up to us with a smile wider than the San Andreas Fault and a lot less dangerous.

As I hurried between the wooden tables, my footsteps resounded louder on the gravel than a hundred monks crunching popcorn.

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.

Wine and Punishment–great literary themed cozy mystery

Wine and Punishment

by Sarah Fox

Wine and PunishmentI stayed up obscenely late to finish Wine and Punishment, the first book in Sarah Fox’s new series, and I don’t regret it at all. Engaged in the plot all the way through, I could not have predicted the ending. It has an action packed conclusion, and the murderer reveal is quite astonishing.

Sadie buys a picturesque old mill located in Shady Creek, Vermont, that had been turned into a pub by its previous owner. Anxious to be successful in her first business venture, she participates in the town’s annual Autumn Festival. All but two of the town residents are welcoming until Sadie’s ex-boyfriend from Boston turns up in town—dead. Then rumors start to fly. Various threads, including a gambling problem and industrial espionage, lead to potential suspects. Sadie does some investigating on her own with a backdrop of personal attacks against her.

There are lots of interesting characters including Sadie’s two employees, a handsome, but mysteriously disgruntled craft brewery owner, her supportive Aunt Gilda, her new friend Shontelle, and lots of local regulars at  the pub. Cat lovers will enjoy the frequent appearance of Sadie’s cat Wimsey.

What makes this cozy mystery extra fun is the literary theme of the pub which Sadie renames the Inkwell. In addition to all the bookshelves in the main room, there are more in the two overflow rooms. Sadie names one of them the Christie room for Agatha Christie, one of her favorite mystery authors, and she decorates it with appropriate memorabilia. These two rooms will also be reserved as needed for the book clubs she is forming. Going beyond the physical facility, Sadie creates literary themed cocktails and in the future, when she can find a chef, the pub will have cuisine with a literary motif. Book lovers will find all these details icing on the cozy mystery cake.

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. #1 in the Literary Pub Mystery Series, but this author has two more successful series.

  2. Recipes are added at the end of the book for cocktails and carrot muffins.

Publication:   December 18, 2018—Kensington Books

Memorable Lines:

…my business—and only—dealings with him hadn’t been pleasant experiences. I found him brusque and as prickly as a porcupine. If not for the fact that his beers were so popular with both the tourists and locals, I wouldn’t have bothered to sell them at the Inkwell.

I’d never managed to leave the store without at least one or two purchases. Not that I minded. I didn’t think there was such a thing as owning too many books. 

I pushed open the coffee shop’s door, ill at ease and eager to get away, but even as I left the woman behind, I could still feel the icy touch of her glare on my back.

Killed on Blueberry Hill–murder at the Blueberry Blowout

Killed on Blueberry Hill

by Sharon Farrow

Killed on Blueberry HillOh, yes! I have a new series to add to a favorites list for cozy mysteries. Although I jumped into Sharon Farrow’s Berry Basket Mystery Series with the third book, I had no trouble following the storyline of Killed on Blueberry Hill. At first, given the theme of the book and the series, I was afraid blueberries would be overdone in this book. While they do take center stage as a motif, the emphasis is not forced because the setting is Oriole Point’s Blueberry Blow Out festival. It is, in fact, integral to the plot. Although blueberries are found all through the book, their inclusion is not repetitious because of the variety of ways the theme is used—food, drinks, atmosphere, businesses, costumes, and carnival fun.

The plot of Killed on Blueberry Hill has lots of threads that tie together well…in the end. Along the way they seem contradictory and confusing, pointing a finger at many suspects with plausible motives. This cozy mystery contains a wonderful assortment of characters, but many are not who they seem to be. Secrets and deceptions underlie the festive atmosphere. Marlee is the owner of The Berry Basket, a store in town that sells blueberry products, so she knows the three major producers, all family-run businesses. Her fiancé Ryan is a member of the close-knit Zellar family. Why is he pushing Marlee so hard on the wedding date, selling her family home, and just about every other decision in her life? When the owner of another blueberry farm is murdered on his own carnival ride, who will get the blame? There are several deaths in Oriole County. Who is set to inherit the wealth? This cozy has an exciting, action packed ending and major surprises. Along the way we meet Natasha, the recently widowed Miss Russia, with her delightful accent and choice of words. Not only does she add humor to the book, but she is instrumental in helping Marlee. I don’t know if Natasha will be included in future books in the series, but I hope so. She ramped up the book from 4 stars to 5 for me.

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: #3 in the Berry Basket Mystery Series, but works well as a standalone. Added to the book are three delicious sounding recipes that were featured in the story—blueberry, of course.

Publication:   October 30, 2018—Kensington Publishing

Memorable Lines:

When I came to a stop in front of the yellow farmhouse, I could almost see my younger pigtailed self on the bottom porch step, eating fresh-picked blueberries from a pail. It seemed a lifetime ago. But also as recent as last month.

“Don’t be such a snob. Not everyone was born with an entire set of silver spoons in their mouth.”

I threw myself into work with such single-minded dedication, Ebenezer Scrooge himself would have given me a raise. And he wouldn’t have needed any visits from ghosts to prompt it.

Stabbed in the Baklava–secrets and more secrets

Stabbed in the Baklava

by Tina Kashian

Stabbed in the BaklavaAuthor Tina Kashian draws heavily on real life for background and details as she composes her Kitchen Kabab Mystery Series. Like Lucy, her heroine, Tina Kashian grew up working all the various necessary jobs in her parents’ Armenian restaurant on the New Jersey coast. She later worked as a lawyer honing her investigative expertise. Now she puts all of her skills together to create mouth-watering cozy mysteries.

In Stabbed in the Baklava, when Lucy Berberian and her staff cater a celebrity wedding reception, a murder victim is found. To save Lucy’s head chef, Lucy and her friend Katie work hard to find the perpetrator amidst a lot of possibilities. It seems everyone has a secret, and the secrets cause a lot of pain and misunderstandings. Lucy has to get to the bottom of the puzzle to save lives and satisfy justice.

This is a fast-moving cozy mystery with lots of twists and turns to keep the reader engaged. Several times the author uses Lucy to clearly review the complicated plot as the events appear at that point in the story—not a bad technique of summary and clarification. The ending unravels in a surprising and satisfying conclusion.

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:  This second book in the Kitchen Kabab Mystery Series works well as a standalone. The author fills the reader in on background from the first book in the series thoroughly but not tediously.

Publication:   August 28, 2018—Kensington Books

Memorable Lines:

A chrome and black Harley-Davidson motorcycle was in the driveway, its engine purring like a large contented beast. A tall, good-looking, dark-haired man wearing faded jeans and a leather jacket walked out of the garage and halted by the Harley. Lucy couldn’t see his eyes from this distance, but she knew they were as bright blue as the sky on a sultry, summer day at the beach.

A knot tightened in Lucy’s stomach, and she struggled with an unexpected uncertainty. If she was getting better at misleading people in order to gather information, what did that say about her?

Lucy’s mind had seen what it expected to see rather than seeing the truth.

Picked Off–vegan running a goat dairy

Picked Off

by Linda Lovely

Picked OffI enjoyed Picked Off, a cozy mystery by Linda Lovely, but I didn’t love it and I didn’t think it was as good as the first book in the series.

On the positive side, it has an interesting plot, likable characters and appropriate injections of humor. In fact, there is an exciting escape scene that is as funny as all get out! It’s worth reading the book just to experience that piece of writing. There are lots of fun, folksy figures of speech to roll off the tongue and stir the imagination. 

On the negative side, Brie, who is helping her Aunt Eva with Udderly Kidding Dairy, is as enmeshed as ever in her attractions to Paint and Andy who are best friends to each other. The irony of a vegan who runs a dairy farm and engages in cheese and meat curses is lost on no one and remains amusing in the second book. The romantic triangle, however, is losing its appeal. Brie, along with the author, appears stuck on the fence. My other criticism is that there were a few loose ends that did not get tied up. I am especially interested in the missing backpack containing evidential video footage. It seems to have dropped off the radar.

The basic plot is interesting: Carol Strong is campaigning for South Carolina governor and her son, football star Zack, is attacked during a Halloween themed rally for her benefit. There is more mayhem, lots of entanglements, and plenty of folks to accuse. Imagine trying to identify suspects when most guests are wearing masks.  Brie, her friend Mollye, and Aunt Eva find themselves overly and dangerously involved, but the reader benefits by enjoying the plot’s development.

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

Notes: #2 in the Brie Hooker Mystery Series

Publication:  June 5, 2018—Henery Press

Memorable Lines:

My nerves jangled. Who could blame me? Yesterday’s assault would have scared the beans out of a bowl of chili.

Eva returned around lunch time, exhausted. Airlines could assess a surcharge for the size of the bags under her eyes.

…we were more out of our depth than a vegan at a wienie roast.

Bad Neighbors–another fun ride with Agnes and Effie

Bad Neighbors

by Maia Chance

Bad NeighborsGrab your hat for a whirlwind ride with Agnes, a self-professed nerd, and her wacky Aunt Effie in Maia Chance’s new cozy mystery Bad Neighbors. Agnes, recovering from the breakup of a long term relationship, has still not unpacked her boxes as she continues to try to figure out her future. Meanwhile Agnes, Effie, and cousin Chester take on their first four guests at the Stagecoach Inn, which they have only barely begun to remodel. Their four nonpaying guests are part of a tour group who have come to small town Naneda to view the changing leaves. Unfortunately their bus broke down. The whole town scurries to accommodate the tour bus participants because the town is also hosting their Harvest Festival along with the obnoxious judge of a yearly contest among towns in the area.

With this autumnal backdrop, the plot thickens as one of the locals is found murdered and Agnes’ old high school flame Otis is a suspect. Along the way there is a lot of suspicion thrown on various characters, and Agnes picks up a lot of ridicule from various townspeople who resent her sleuthing. Her arch rival turns out to be the snarky cupcake queen Delilah who sets her eyes on Otis.

Agnes, Effie, and their gaggle of equally quirky guests engage in numerous adventures in the name of investigations. Agnes has some close brushes with death and seriously considers leaving the craziness of the Stagecoach Inn behind to return to graduate school. What will it take to discover the murderer and to invest Agnes fully in life in Naneda? The end of this fun and humorous cozy mystery will reveal all.

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: #2 in the Agnes and Effie Mystery Series, but works as a standalone

Publication:  April 6, 2018—Crooked Lane Books

Memorable Lines: 

…in my “new” car. This was a fifteen-year-old whitish minivan that looked like a cross between a handheld Dustbuster and the Space Shuttle. Its undercarriage was about two inches from the ground and bumped and scraped on every last pebble. At speeds over forty-five miles per hour, it felt in danger of disintegration.

To say I had butterflies in my stomach is an understatement. It felt as if I had pterodactyls swooping around in there.

Over the past weeks, our new relationship had felt like a fragile, enhanced bubble. I had made sure not to get too comfortable, because if I got comfortable, settled in, made myself at home, it would hurt that much more when the bubble inevitably popped. 

Double Dog Dare–humorous cozy mystery

Double Dog Dare

by Gretchen Archer

Double Dog DareI was surprised to see that Double Dog Dare, a cozy mystery, is also classified by the publisher as humor…until I read it. It is hilarious; all the way through from one complication to another. The storyline starts out simply enough as Davis Way, who is part of the security team at a Biloxi, Mississippi, casino anticipates the arrival of her sister Meredith and Meredith’s friend Vree, a nonstop, stream of consciousness talker with her dog who will be competing in a canine competition at the casino.

From the moment Davis opens the door to the early arriving Vree instead of Meredith, absolutely nothing goes as planned. Author Gretchen Archer creates fun characters and really amusing dialogue. The plot is intricate and when you are not laughing, you will be saying “What???” over the latest development. There are a variety of crimes including kidnappings, impersonations, and thefts. Meredith has a moral dilemma and in trying to help her, Davis also explores ethical and legal boundaries.

While all of these complications are occurring, Davis has to role play the wife of the casino’s owner, care for her twin 20-month old daughters, manage several dogs, and not tell her husband what is going on at home while he is attending a conference in Nashville.

If you want a nonstop mystery that will keep you smiling, laughing, and shaking your head, you’ll want to grab Double Dog Dare. It is now available in Kindle format.

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: Mystery, Humor

Notes: #7 in the Davis Way Crime Capers series, but works well as a standalone

Publication:  March 20, 2018 —Henery Press

Memorable Lines:

Vree could talk the stars out of the sky. I believed she talked so she wouldn’t have to listen; there was always something Vree didn’t want to hear.

We’d wasted the half hour before that racking our brains for a doctor, a medical examiner, an EMT, a mortician, or even a Girl Scout with her Corpse Badge who owed us a favor…

“It was our constellation prize to them since our dog drew blood.”

I always thought she was just mean, as opposed to otherworldly. As it turns out, she’s neither. She wants what everyone else wants. Someone to love who loves her back. That’s it.

Queen of Flowers–so many elements

Queen of Flowers

by Kerry Greenwood

Queen of FlowersQueen of Flowers opens with Phryne Fisher’s extensive fitting for a dress to be worn in a Melbourne parade as the chosen Queen of Flowers based on her charitable support. The whole household is turned on end for the fitting, an elephant makes an appearance in her yard, and that day turns out to be the most tranquil in the book.

Queen of Flowers is a masterpiece of complex plot. The carnival and circus are in town along with a violin player from Phryne’s past. Adopted daughter Ruth begins to wonder about her parents. Phryne takes her four flower girls (young ladies) in hand and discovers interesting aspects of their backgrounds. As usual, Phryne shows herself as a force to be reckoned with in dealing with some of St. Kilda’s shadiest characters. My one problem with the book was that when one of her daughters goes missing, Phryne is much calmer than one would expect.

All of Phryne’s “minions” are called in to help with the various mysteries that are amazingly connected. I felt like standing up and clapping with a loud “Well done!” as Greenwood tied up the plot threads successfully and delivered justice as deserved.

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

Rating: 5/5

Category: Historical Fiction, Mystery

Notes: #14 of the Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries; could be a standalone but better if you have some background on the characters

Publication:   November 7, 2017—Poisoned Pen Press

Memorable Lines:

Phryne, the fiddler remembered, always existed as a still, self-possessed point in a maelstrom. Usually she had created the maelstrom herself.

Phryne…climbed the stairs in search of copious hot water to wash the Weston house off her skin. She had been in houses which ran black with fleas. She had been in rural cottages where the soot gloved the beams and the vulcanized grease on the kitchen walls had been classified by the National Trust. But she had never felt quite this grimy, and she didn’t like it.

He was a slick, hard-faced man with a chin on which one could break rocks, and thin red lips. His eyes were as compassionate and kind as chips of flint.

Cold As Ice–trying to cover mistakes

Cold As Ice

by Julie Mulhern

Cold as IceAt 6:30 on a Friday evening, Ellison Russell sensed Disaster, but what about her daughter going on a date to see Benji with a handsome, polite young man from their social group or her attending a cocktail party with her best friend Libba? Who could have foretold the disastrous sequence of events that would occur over the next several days?

As expected, Cold As Ice, Julie Mulhern’s sixth novel in the Country Club Mystery Series is a winner. It jumps right into the current story while catching up readers who are new to the series. With a lot of legitimate suspects, Ellison stays busy following leads as she tries to save a failing bank which is her daughter’s inheritance from Ellison’s licentious, now dead, husband and negotiate landmines in her relationships with her domineering mother and her teenage daughter. Meanwhile two love interests, a lawyer and a detective, provide aid in her investigations while vying for her affections.

All of the investigation occurs in the midst of family chaos and is delivered with a heavy dose of wry humor. Mr. Coffee continues to be the only man Ellison can truly depend on. The setting is decorated with multiple authentic touches of the seventies. It is a book I didn’t want to put down, but I didn’t want it to end either.

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: Mystery, General Fiction (Adult)

Notes: # 6 in The Country Club Murders; works fine as a standalone

Publication:   October 17, 2017—Henery Press

Memorable Lines:

“How was your date?” A silly question, since animated songbirds perched on her shoulders and whistled.

Perhaps the expression I allowed into my eyes stilled his tongue. It was one of Mother’s best. It spoke of impending pain and suffering and icy fury.

“Hi.” His voice was as delicious as s’mores made in the fireplace on a snow day. Melty and warm and addictive.

We need to talk. Has anything good ever followed those four words?

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