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Pinot Red or Dead–who is messing with the wineries?

Pinot Red or Dead

by J. C. Eaton

Pinot Red or DeadDon’t you love it when a cozy mystery is as fun as you expected? Pinot Red or Dead by the husband/wife author team known as J.C. Eaton maintained my interest, kept me guessing, and put a smile on my face all the way through.

In the third mystery in this series, Norrie, a screenplay writer who is temporarily in charge of the family winery, becomes involved in yet another murder mystery as problems beset the Lake-to-Lake Wine Distributors which distributes wine for Norrie’s winery as well as the other wineries that surround Seneca Lake. Norrie is determined to discover the identity of the murderer. Is it the same person who is trying to drive prices of Pinot Noir sky high? In the process she gets to know Godfrey Klein, an entomologist. She tours a convent with him, ostensibly to observe his methods to eradicate through natural means an infestation of stinkbugs, but she has an ulterior motive. Her friends Don and Theo, owners of the neighboring Grey Egret Winery, play pivotal roles in this mystery. Look for theft, sabotage, and a very surprising ending.

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: #3 in the Wine Trail Mysteries, but works well as a standalone

Publication:   March 26, 2019—Kensington (Lyrical Underground)

Memorable Lines:

And then the tears again. And the sobs. People handled grief differently and they went through all sorts of stages, but watching Lavettia Lawrence was like having a front seat at Wimbledon.

Delving into social media was like falling into a never-ending pit, but what choice did I have? If I could focus on Miller and Lavettia and not get sidetracked by cute kittens or craft projects I’d never make, I’d be okay.

In my mind, I was the epitome of “grace under pressure,” but Theo, who caught sight of me on his way to the restroom, later told me I looked like Hermione Granger after she fought off the troll.

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As Directed–pharmaceutical poisoning

As Directed

by Kathleen Valenti

As DirectedIf you have a master’s degree in pharmacology but come up on the wrong side of Big Pharmaceuticals, you might end up like Maggie O’Malley as a pharmacy technician working her way up to becoming a pharmacist. Along the way Maggie stumbles over dead bodies, gets wound up in several investigations, and finds that her deadly nemesis has been released from jail.

As Directed by Kathleen Valenti is a complicated mystery that makes you feel like you are in a maze. There are lots of victims and many potential criminals. Maggie makes an engaging main character, trying to do the right things but often stumbling along in the frustrating fog of post-concussion syndrome. Her ever supportive boyfriend Constantine is  always ready with IT help and amusing quips.  His pet hamster Miss Vanilla and a stray dog that the couple is “definitely” not going to keep make multiple appearances along with interesting characters who people the book. I recommend this book as a fascinating whodunit especially if you like mysteries with a medical bent.

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:  5/5

Category: Mystery

Notes: #3 in the Maggie O’Malley Mystery Series, but works well as a standalone.

Publication:   March 12, 2019—Henery Press

Memorable Lines:

Levon Petrofina was particular to the point of rigidity, committed to not just following the letter of the law but alphabetizing each letter.

She used to think of the place where she shoved the uncomfortable, the painful, as the Wall. Now she realized she had added to her repertoire of denial, creating a blister around her heart that encapsulated the feelings and memories she wanted so desperately to avoid.

Broken out windows gaped like empty eye sockets. The front door, splintered and half off its hinges, sagged in a toothless frown.

One Feta in the Grave–murder under the boardwalk

One Feta in the Grave

by Tina Kashian

One Feta in the GraveWelcome to the New Jersey seashore where Ocean Crest is having a beach festival. Lucy has returned to her hometown to take over the family’s Mediterranean restaurant. Her best friend, Katie, is in charge of judging the festival’s sand sculpture contest. That seems like an easy enough job until a contestant insists that one of the judges should be disqualified. Later Lucy finds one of the men involved in the argument dead under the boardwalk.

The subsequent cancellation of the festival could mean financial ruin for many in the town. Lucy steps up to try to solve the crime to help her town and to clear Katie from suspicion. Lucy may have taken on an overwhelming task as there are many suspects and leads to follow. As Lucy manages the restaurant and acts as an unauthorized private eye, she is also trying to balance relationships with two charming men.

I like the characters and enjoy watching their interactions. I think Lucy and Katie, who is a policeman’s wife, did step over a line as some of their investigative “techniques” were clearly illegal. Their actions put Katie’s husband, Bill, in an obvious conflict of interest when he learns what they have done. Lucy’s moral compass needs a little adjustment, but her heart is in the right place. She is later faced with another issue in which doing what is right hurts other people, but she does it anyway, following it up with an attempt to lessen the difficult consequences.

There are references to delicious foods from pita with various flavors of hummus to baklava all through the book. Lucy is an adventurous foodie who enjoys tasting outside her arena of Mediterranean comfort foods. Recipes for date cookies, lentil soup, and Greek salad are included.

One Feta in the Grave is not as fast paced as Tina Kashian’s first two books in the series, but is quite enjoyable anyway. I’m looking forward to the next book in the Kabob Kitchen Mystery Series.

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: 4/5

Category: Mystery

Notes: #3 in the Kabob Kitchen Mystery Series, but works as a standalone. Recipes are included at the end.

Publication:   February 26, 2019—Kensington Books

Memorable Lines:

“Butch can look scary.” Butch had a chest the size of a small armoire and hands that looked like meat pounders. With his checked bandana and gold tooth, he was downright intimidating. The funny thing was that Butch was the kindest and most mild-mannered man she knew.

“Double chocolate brownie chunk. Definitely decadent if you are a chocolate lover.” “It’s too chocolatey,” Katie said. Lucy shot Katie an incredulous look. “Is that even possible?”

If there was one thing she’d learned since returning to town and stumbling upon a body…or two…is that not everyone was as innocent or guilty as they appeared.

The Puppy Who Knew Too Much–Chattanooga setting

The Puppy Who Knew Too Much

by V.M. Burns

The Puppy Who Knew Too MuchChattanooga, Tennessee, is my hometown, and it is also the setting of V. M. Burns’ The Puppy Who Knew Too Much. Although I know Chattanooga has changed since I moved away from the South, this book became a trip down memory lane. There are many factual details that make the book more realistic—the scary winding roads leading up to beautiful and tony Lookout Mountain, interstate highways that ease traffic across the Scenic City, and greasy burgers and delicious shakes in East Ridge. Other aspects are altered but have a basis in truth, particularly the fictional Chattanooga Museum of Art, situated on the bluff overlooking the Tennessee River and backed by the Hopewell family. When I lived in Chattanooga, it was actually the Hunter Art Gallery. From there you can see the Walnut Street Bridge, now a pedestrian bridge, that I crossed every day in our family VW to attend school. Other authentic tips of the hat are extended to Moon Pies, Southern hospitality, and great weather (compared to the Midwest and Northeast). As well as providing me with an outlet for my nostalgia, all of these smile provoking memories are related to reassure the reader of the authenticity of the setting.

As to the other aspects of this cozy mystery, the plot is intricate with several murders and the strong possibility that the crimes are related. Lilly has recently moved to Chattanooga with her toy poodle, Aggie, to push the restart button on her life. Just a few moths prior, she was jailed for the murder of her philandering husband. She is convinced by her friend Dixie to relocate in Chattanooga, and she finds a temporary job as an accountant at the museum. Life becomes “interesting” for her quickly as she informally investigates a murder with the help of her lawyer daughter Stephanie and her friend Dixie. Along the way, Tennessee Bureau of Investigation officer Red joins forces with the group and romance is on the horizon.

The best part of this book is the role of various dogs. There is a lot of information about dog training to be picked up by osmosis as Dixie is a dog trainer. The story features a K-9 officer and Aggie, a smart puppy desperately in need of training. There is also a rescued dog with a surprise involvement.

The Puppy Who Knew Too Much barks out: Welcome to the South, one that has moved along with the times, but has retained beautiful views, the friendliness it is famous for, as well as a slower pace of life! 

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: #2 in the Dog Club Mystery Series, but works quite well as a standalone.

Publication:  February 12, 2019—Kensington Books (Lyrical Underground)

Memorable Lines:

…she had the You poor pitiful thing look in her eyes that she always gave me before she said, “Bless your heart,” which I’d learned was Southern speak for You’re an idiot.

I always thought the Midwest was a relatively friendly area, but two weeks in Chattanooga showed me the South was on a totally different level of friendliness. Complete strangers talked to you.

“It’s a Southern thing. We’re always trying to feed people and get them married off.”

“Honey, you’re in the South. We believe in hugs.”

Hot Fudge Murder–fashion and food

Hot Fudge Murder

by Cynthia Baxter

Hot Fudge MurderThe first chapter of Cynthia Baxter’s Hot Fudge Murder efficiently brings readers up to speed on the characters while beginning the action of the new plot. Kate McKay, owner of Lickety Splits, is hired by fashion designer Omar DeVane to cater an affair at his vacation home, throwing her into the world of the rich and famous. His favorite treat is hot fudge sundaes which Kate is glad to provide. 

There is a murder at the event, and the important tourist trade in Wolfert’s Roost plummets, threatening the business interests of Kate and other locals. Kate begins an informal investigation in an effort to save her town financially.

Hot Fudge Murder has two potential love interests for Kate; they are in and out of the plot as Kate interviews suspects. Another character is Emma, Kate’s niece who lives with Kate and works for her in the ice cream shop. Also on the Cream Team are Willow, a yoga instructor and Katie’s best friend, and Ethan, Emma’s current crush. 

The fashion world setting is interesting with some humorous elements such as when a fashion model appears clueless as to where she should look in  a kitchen to find ice. In her world it was always provided in a bucket. Character-suspects include Omar’s personal assistant, his financial manager, an elegant magazine editor, and his favorite model.

Kate does most of her investigating through interviews—with a little deception thrown in. Consistently, as she is talking to other people, Kate’s mind is tossing around ideas for innovative ice cream flavors. A few sound like winners, but many sound disgusting (e.g. Pear with Blue Cheese). I think they are included to be outrageous and showcase Kate’s creativity Occasionally, however, that aspect of the story seems overdone.

Hot Fudge Murder is fun. I look forward to the next book in the series.

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: 4/5

Category: Mystery

Notes: 1. #2 in the Lickety Splits Ice Cream Shoppe Mystery Series, but works well as a standalone

  2. Each chapter starts with interesting historical notes about ice cream.

  3. The book includes a recipe for hot fudge sauce and also for a peach and basil sorbet.

Publication:  January 29, 2019—Kensington Books

Memorable Lines: 

…by making and selling ice cream, I was doing much more than living out a longtime fantasy. I was providing people with the ultimate comfort food, one that was unique in its ability to serve as a treat, a reward, a celebration, a way to feel better on a bad day—or a way to simply enjoy life.

Chloe was curled up in a chair, just watching us. Sometimes I felt that cats were actually creatures from another planet, sent here to spy on us earthlings.

The problem was that with men, as with ice cream, no matter how many delectable possibilities there were, in the end you had to make a choice.

Death by Committee–a mastiff mix takes center stage

Death by Committee

by Alexis Morgan

Death by CommitteeLooking for an exciting cozy mystery? Death by Committee has more action than is normally found in a cozy mystery. It is for sure a page turner.

Death by Committee by Alexis Morgan features likable characters with some depth to them that makes you want to get to know them even better. Its setup has potential for lots of variety in future stories. Main character Abby McCree, recently divorced, inherits her aunt’s house in a small town. She finds herself landlady to Tripp, a handsome veteran who lives in a cottage on her property. Abby has plenty to do sorting through her aunt’s possessions, but Aunt Sibyl’s elderly friends expect her to step into her aunt’s shoes as head of the quilting guild and as a civic leader.

A body is found buried on Abby’s property wrapped in a quilt. This gruesome discovery leads to her informal and unsanctioned investigation to clear her aunt’s name, but there is more intrigue to follow. A side mystery involves the disappearance of thirteen quilts. The quilts are valuable, but are they worth the penalties for theft? 

My favorite character is the huge, slobbery Zeke: a mastiff cross who is Abby’s best buddy and defender. He is a constant throughout the story providing interest and humor. Zeke adores both Tripp and Abby (and treats) as much as the pair loves him. The book is filled with humorous repartee as Tripp and Abby struggle to understand each other, and fireworks of various kinds fly.

I did figure out before the reveal who the murderer is, but not the motive. I think this was intentional, making the final scenes even more dramatic. Abby put herself in danger sometimes through her own actions, but it does make for an exciting story. I am looking forward to the next book in the series. This one did not change my world, but it is a lot of fun, and it left me with a satisfied smile and wanting more.

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 Abby McCree Mystery Series

  2. The cute cover doesn’t depict what actually happened in the book.

Publication:   January 29, 2019—Kensington Books

Memorable Lines:

If she didn’t know what a sweetheart he was, she might have been just as leery of a dog of his size, too. The truth was, the only real threat the bighearted fellow presented to the world was his ability to produce an excessive amount of drool, which often left behind an icky trail of mastiff goo wherever he went.

The day hadn’t gone well at all, and her reward was a crushing headache. For now, she wasn’t going to think about anything more complicated than what flavor of tea would go best with ibuprofen.

“Don’t worry. We’re fine, boy. Just out for a drive.” Okay, that was a lie, and not even the dog was buying what she was selling.

Death by Chocolate Malted Milkshake–delicious cozy mystery

Death by Chocolate Malted Milkshake

by Sarah Graves

Death by Chocolate Malted MilkshakeJake (Jacobia) relates this tale from the first person point of view as she and her friend Ellie struggle to survive the low tourist season in Maine. In this delightful cozy mystery, Jake and Ellie own their dream shop, The Chocolate Moose. Having recently purchased a vintage, mint green milkshake maker, they have added chocolate milkshakes to the treats featured in their chocolate themed bakery. Unfortunately, an abusive local drunk is found dead with one of their milkshake cups beside him.

In Death by Chocolate Malted Milkshake by Sarah Graves, questions swirl like a milkshake in a blender. Was the victim poisoned by the milkshake? Will the tampered milkshake rumors prove deadly to their struggling business? The ladies are counting on a whoopie-pie wedding cake to keep their business afloat; but with the groom suspected of murder, will the wedding even take place?

There are other suspects, interesting extended family members, a competent, sympathetic sheriff, lots of action, and more than a little danger as Jake and Ellie try to save their shop, keep Ellie and her family from having to move, discover the murderer and stay alive. I was surprised by the ending and the revelation of the murderer.

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: #2 in the Death by Chocolate Mystery Series, but will work as a standalone.

It features a recipe for Ginger Chocolate Biscotti.

Publication:   January 29, 2019—Kensington Books

Memorable Lines:

The landlady’s glare was so cold, you could’ve used it to freeze fish.

An old railroad trestle crossed the gap between two high bluffs over a grassy salt marsh. In the moonlight, the cattails in the marsh stood motionless as if at attention.

Basically, I thought, frogs lived in a puddle, ate flies, and never got warm; still they yelled out their happiness in doing it and I found that encouraging.

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