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Death by Jack-O’-Lantern–vets helping vets

Death by Jack-O’-Lantern

by Alexis Morgan

Death by Jack-O'-LanternOstensibly a Halloween cozy mystery, Death by Jack-O’-Lantern by Alexis Morgan is so much more. In addition to a great mystery, there is a budding romance between Tripp Blackson and his landlady Abby McCree and lots of small town activity as Snowberry Creek in the Pacific Northwest pulls together to make their Halloween Festival a success. In the midst of a murder investigation, pumpkins carved to resemble townspeople crop up all over town, produced by an anonymous artist. There are lots of supportive new friends for Abby as she tries to settle into her new town, but there are also some puzzling characters. The overarching serious questions are important ones: How can we help returning veterans with PTSD? To what extent does a person go to help and protect his friend?

Abby goes too far in her investigations, stirring up danger for herself and anger in Tripp and the local law enforcement officers as they fear for her safety. Zeke, her mastiff mix, plays a recurring role as her buddy and protector. Abby, an excellent manager and organizer, spends a lot of her time coordinating volunteers for several committees. She also loves to bake, especially for her friends, and to consume copious amounts of caffeinated coffee and sweet treats.

I enjoyed this top notch cozy mystery, and I’m looking forward to the next one in the series. Kudos to the author as this story’s ending was one I didn’t see coming!

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 Abby McCree Mystery Series. It would be OK to read as a standalone, but I think it would be more enjoyable if you read #1 in the series first.

Publication:   August 27, 2019—Kensington Books

Memorable Lines:

“Connie has a real talent for ‘volunteering’ people. I swear, you walk into city hall to ask a simple question about property taxes and somehow walk out in charge of a major town event. You’re even grateful for the chance to help out.”

Abby used artificial sweetener in her coffee to help compensate for the huge chocolate chip macadamia nut cookies she’d ordered. Yeah, it was a bit silly, but logic didn’t play a big part in her need for chocolate in times of stress.

She’d let Zeke outside for his usual morning patrol around the yard, but he hadn’t come trotting back in to inhale his breakfast…When she finally spotted him, her heart almost broke. He was sitting on Tripp’s front porch and staring at the door as if sheer determination would make his friend appear. How on earth was she supposed to explain to him that his buddy had been locked up in the people pound?

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.

Little Girls Sleeping: an absolutely gripping crime thriller

Little Girls Sleeping: an absolutely gripping crime thriller

by Jennifer Chase

Little Girls SleepingMy general philosophy is “I don’t read thrillers, especially psychological thrillers.” They just hold too much impact for me. I read an online review, however, that led me to believe that perhaps I should make an exception for Little Girls Sleeping, the first in a new series by Jennifer Chase. As I started reading this thriller, I wondered if I had made a mistake as the story involves the disappearance of young girls and gives some insight into the twisted mind of the perpetrator. Soon, however, the tale expands into the story of returning veteran Katie Scott and Cisco, her K9 military companion.

A former police officer, Katie is taking some time to decide her next career move when she comes across a cold case file on her uncle’s desk. For Katie, the case is personal because it brings up memories of a childhood friend at camp who was murdered. The rest of the book tracks Katie’s pursuit of the truth and is part thriller, part mystery, and part police procedural. If you are drawn to K9 stories you will certainly enjoy this one as Cisco plays a major role.

Katie, who suffers from PTSD, is a strong and determined young woman. Her character is likable, and readers will look forward to watching her develop in future books in this series. She has support from a childhood friend, Chad, and from her uncle, Sheriff Scott. The plot line is engaging. At about 60% through the book, I had figured out who the evil “Toymaker” is—but I was wrong, and at about 80%, the true murderer is revealed. At that point, however, the action just gets more intense. I’m glad I read this page turner, and I am happy to report no nightmares as a result.

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

Rating: 5/5

Category: Mystery and Thriller

Notes: 1. If you are interested in the review that inspired my choosing this book, visit blogger/reviewer Shalini.  

          2. #1 in the Detective Katie Scott Series

Publication:   May 31, 2019—Bookouture

Memorable Lines:

The detective didn’t scare her. She had encountered some real tyrants in the army, from sergeants to training officers, so Templeton was like a yapping little dog to her—fierce, but only annoying at best.

Anxiety was a stealthy and unpredictable enemy.

She rubbed her hands together and let the happy memories flood her mind—at least for a short period. Sometimes it was difficult for her to let the positive things into her life. Her experiences had skewed her perception so that everything seemed on the verge of catastrophe. It was as if she had blocked out anything good in her life.

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.

Chardonnayed to Rest–lots of fun

Chardonnayed to Rest

by J. C. Eaton

Chardonnayed to RestChardonnayed to Rest is a fun, cozy mystery authored by the husband and wife team that goes by the name J.C. Eaton. It features wineries in Penn Yan, New York. The winery owners there support each other and collaborate on various projects such as the Federweisser celebration which is slated this year to be held at the Two Witches Winery. Norrie, a successful screenwriter is maintaining her career while taking over supervision of the family winery for a year for her sister who is hunting an elusive bug in Costa Rica. With an experienced staff, what could possibly go wrong? Unfortunately, a murder occurs at the winery across from Two Witches.

Norrie does some unofficial sleuthing with friends Don and Theo of the Grey Egret winery. Along the way she meets a handsome lawyer and a likable entomologist. There are also some attempts on Norrie’s life. Someone is arrested for the murder, but Norrie is convinced that they have the wrong person, and she is determined to prove it. 

Chardonnayed to Rest moves quickly and has lots of suspects and a resolution I didn’t see coming. Some parts were amusing and some caught me laughing out loud.  I can’t wait to see what adventures await Norrie in the next book in the Wine Trail Mysteries.

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 Wine Trail Mystery Series, but works as a standalone. There may be a few references to characters who are not actually a part of this book, but that will in no way hinder your enjoyment of or understanding of this book.

Publication:   September 25, 2018—Lyrical Underground (Kensington Press)

Memorable Lines:

Rosalee had told me Marilyn was somewhat of a drama queen, but she seemed to have reached full empress status by the time she placed the call to my number.

If my mouth opened any wider, every insect in the county would’ve had a new home.

I was no stranger to good-looking guys, but the minute my eyes landed on Bradley Jamison, it was as if all the other men I’d ever seen were reduced to toads. That was how gorgeous this guy was. Sandy blond hair, cobalt blue eyes that matched his tie, and a physique that could put Chuck Norris to shame.

Field of Bones: A Brady Novel of Suspense

Field of Bones: A Brady Novel of Suspense

by J.A. Jance

Field of BonesIt was all I could do to get through the first half of the book. Don’t get me wrong. Field of Bones, set in Arizona, fulfills its promise of being a suspenseful novel, and it is very well written. The characters are appropriately developed, and I certainly understand the appeal of Sheriff Joanna Brady, mother of three, as the main character of the series. She is a strong woman, but portrayed realistically, not as a superwoman. Part mystery, part thriller, part police procedural, and all suspense fiction, Field of Bones runs the full gamut.

The “but” you can hear coming is because of the topic: violent, horrible, sex slavery. It makes for a combo of “I can’t stop reading, leaving characters in this torturous situation” and “I can’t read anymore; it is just too painful.” Kudos to the author J.A. Dance for the skills to put me in this situation. At the same time, I have to say Jance does not include details of the violence, but offers enough information that anyone with an imagination will get the picture. Given the number of books she has published, I think a lot of people admire her storytelling talent. This book is just too terrifying for me, and I doubt I will read any more of her books.

Although some of the tension is relieved in the last half of the book, the story is far from over. At that point, I did enjoy watching how the professionals from various fields perform their duties and work to put the pieces of the puzzle together.

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

 

Rating: 5/5

Category: Fiction, Thriller, Suspense, Mystery

Notes: #18 in the Joanna Brady Mystery Series, but despite the number of books that preceded this one, I had no trouble following the personal interactions because they were limited compared to the suspenseful storyline.

Publication:   September 4, 2018—HarperCollins Publishers

Memorable Lines:

At the end of this long, difficult day, he was in over his head. She needed a kind way to encourage him without undermining his confidence.

The pressure Latisha applied during the required three-minute wait hurt like crazy, but Garth was grateful for that. You had to be alive to know that it hurt.

“…did you ever get around to having that baby? The last time I saw you, you were big as a barn.” Randy Trotter was a lot of things, but politically correct wasn’t one of them. He was known for putting his lizard-skin Tony Lamas in his mouth, sometimes both of them at once. 

A Bridge for Christmas–rescuing with love

A Bridge for Christmas

by William Schwenn

A Bridge for ChristmasThe first part of A Bridge for Christmas is fairly easy going, setting the stage for a novel about a widower who shuffles through life a day at a time, apparently without purpose or direction. Dave finds himself adopting two dogs, and that one action changes his life. The plot progresses to include a low water bridge destroyed by flood, almost isolating Dave and a small group of his neighbors. There is also an introduction to several people with various approaches to animal rescue work.

Background set, the author William Schwenn picks up the pace, and Dave finds himself in the midst of a mysterious, secretive transport network for rescue dogs. Is the traditional North Carolina mountain community of Calvert County attracting a criminal element focused on dangerous drugs and horrible animal abuse? Will the Bear Creek Bridge be finished in time for Christmas relieving the residents of a one hour dangerous ride to get supplies and conduct business? Can Dave open up his heart to love again?

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

Rating: 4/5

Category: Literary Fiction

Notes: This book contains a number of instances of swearing.

Publication:   August 6, 2018—Brighton Publishing

Memorable Lines:

Dave knew and loved the nature of dogs—they’d forget all about this in a day or two, and move on. Life for them was a fresh adventure every day. Win some, lose some, get confused by some, but no worries—tomorrow will be another day.

Tough mountain boys, Dave thought, and smiled gently. They’ll go through women and wives with the wind, reluctantly trade in trucks, but give up their dogs?

He always found it necessary to remind rookies in his department after their first encounter with particularly nasty elements of the human race, “Don’t think about it too much. Let the Almighty take care of His job, and let’s concentrate on doing ours. We’ll be busy enough with just that.”

Disorderly Conduct–murder on the ridge top

Disorderly Conduct

by Mary Feliz

Disorderly ConductI am of two minds about Mary Feliz’s latest cozy mystery Disorderly Conduct. As a mystery, I think it is top notch. It has interesting, likable characters, from Maggie, a professional organizer, right down to three lovable dogs who play a big part in the story. The setting is compelling as the story plays out in the middle of fire threats in California and involves the tech world of highly paid engineers on software campuses. The plot has twists and turns. Even after the suspects are narrowed down to three, it is hard to guess which one is the murderer and certainly the motive remains a major puzzle.

Unfortunately, I have two problems with Disorderly Conduct. One is that each chapter begins with a tip from Maggie McDonald’s notebook compiled for her company, Simplicity Itself Organizing Services. At first I enjoyed the tips, most of which deal with emergency preparedness. As the book progresses and becomes increasingly more intense, however, the tips become longer and more of an interruption. 

 

The second problem is the large number of social issues Mary Feliz stuffs into this cozy mystery. Don’t get me wrong; I am fine with a themed cozy. I think social issues are important, but the time I spend reading is my pleasure time. I don’t want to feel like someone is either lecturing me or trying to forward an agenda through a cozy mystery. Gun control, gay marriage, discrimination against Muslims, domestic violence, bullying, Olympic competitions, drug cartels, the environment. Choose one, choose two, but not the whole package, please!

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: 4/5

Category: Mystery

Notes: #4 in the Maggie McDonald Mystery Series, but works as a standalone.

Publication:   July 10, 2018—Kensington Press (Lyrical Underground)

Memorable Lines:

If eye rolling was an aerobic activity, no high school on the planet would need to worry about physical education credits.

Rationally, I assumed he was here to update us with news of the investigation into Patrick’s death, and possibly to report on firefighting efforts. But my lizard brain was trying desperately to convince me to flee from a danger and tension in the air that I could feel but couldn’t see.

I glanced at my watch again, having already forgotten what it said when I’d checked the time just seconds earlier. My short-term memory had gotten lost somewhere in the swirl of dreadful events.

Killer Green Tomatoes–building a family from a business

Killer Green Tomatoes

by Lynn Cahoon

Killer Green TomatoesAre the people biologically related to you your only family or can the people you choose to surround yourself with be another type of family? Angie, head chef and owner of the County Seat, tries to answer that question for herself and the reader in Killer Green Tomatoes. Lynn Cahoon’s latest work addresses this question along with several others.

Angie, somewhat of an introvert, finds herself surrounded with issues stemming from various relationships in her small community.  The kitchen and wait staff of County Seat are rocked by a death. The Basque community is selecting a new leader. A murder suspect disappears. Numerous women have conflicts with Angie because of small town gossip and jealousies. The sheriff doesn’t trust her. Even Mrs. Potter from across the street is ready to shake her walker at Angie. Felicia,  Angie’s best friend, and Ian, her boyfriend, are the two people she can count on.

Killer Green Tomatoes is a really good cozy mystery, and I highly recommend the series. I do have one issue with the book and that concern diminishes as the story progresses. Mrs. Potter comes to stay with Angie for a week, and Angie immediately finds excuses to leave the house because Mrs. Potter annoys her. Initially Mrs. Potter does nothing to cause that behavior on Angie’s part. Later there are some eyebrow raising incidents, but overall nothing to engender Angie’s behavior. It’s a week, for heaven’s sake, and the woman is physically independent! With Angie reconciling herself to the situation, the plot takes center stage and the reader is treated to a fun mystery.

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 Farm-to-Fork Mystery Series, but works well as a standalone

Publication:   July 3, 2018—Lyrical Underground (Kensington Press)

Memorable Lines:

Family ties. They wrapped you up in emotions you didn’t even know were there.

Angie was an introvert, and having someone in her house all the time, well, it had been harder than she’d expected.

“There’s enough evil in the world that I can see and understand. I don’t have to go all underworld to be scared.”

The Otter of Death–fascinating otters and mystery

The Otter of Death

by Betty Webb

The Otter of DeathTeddy is a zookeeper at the Gunn Zoo in San Sebastian, CA. She lives on a houseboat and is engaged to Joe, the local county sheriff. She also volunteers conducting a census for the Otter Conservancy, a marine life rescue group. Trouble occurs during her routine survey when she discovers an otter with a cell phone. More troubling is a selfie on the phone that seems to indicate a crime.

The victim is well known, but not very popular, so there are a lot of suspects. Teddy puts herself in danger with her investigations, much to the dismay of Joe and her mother Caro. There are a lot of other characters in this book, including fellow zookeepers, neighbor liveaboards at the harbor, and the wealthy of San Sebastian.  The author, Betty Webb, does a good job of defining the characters and subtly reminding the reader of who they are, as necessary.

I found all aspects of The Otter of Death fascinating, starting with the mystery to be solved, but also including the inner workings of the zoo and information about the animals, especially the otters.

Despite the appealing cover, I went into this cozy mystery wondering if I would like it. I emerged ready to read more of this series.

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: Mystery

Notes: 1. #5 in the Gunn Zoo Mystery Series

  2. This is my first book in the series, but it worked great as a standalone.

  3. You can read the first chapter of this book at bettywebbzoomystery.com.

Publication:  May 2, 2018—Poisoned Pen Press

Memorable Lines:

“I love your mother’s house. It’s so tiny and cute.” Tiny? Cute? For an eleven-room—not counting the kitchen and six baths—antiques-stuffed mansion on a shaded hillside overlooking the Pacific? Only a Betancourt could make such an outrageous statement.

I expected a thunderbolt from Heaven to strike me dead any second, but it didn’t happen. Instead, Frasier—thrilled as any man would be to be called fascinating and mysterious—started talking about his job. It was almost, but not quite, as boring as his wails about his blood-sucking ex-wife.

Trumpeter swans may be beautiful, but they are quick to defend their babies with beating wings and slashing bills. The injuries inflicted by these large birds aren’t as minor as you might think. A peck from a swan’s bill can take out an eye, and a blow from an enraged trumpeter’s four-foot-long wing has been known to break an adult human’s leg.

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