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Dead of Winter–being there for others

Dead of Winter

by Annelise Ryan

Dead of WinterAs snowstorm after snowstorm blows through the U.S., I am reading about similar circumstances in Wisconsin where Mattie Winston, a medico-legal death investigator and former OR and ER nurse, is involved in several cases. The primary focus of Dead of Winter by Annelise Ryan is the brutal death of a teenage girl whose little sister is also missing. In addition, Mattie has to investigate the death of the director of a local theater group which includes Dom who is her friend, the partner of her boss, and also the caregiver for her son.

The investigation of all three crimes moves along at a pace that is frustrating to those involved, especially locating the missing child who is obviously in danger. Interwoven with the professional issues is Mattie’s personal life with her husband, his teenage daughter, and their two-year old son. The little one is a challenge if left alone even briefly. Mattie juggles motherhood with a part-time job that holds full-time intensity.

I originally thought, when I read my first book (#8) in this series that the descriptions at the morgue would be too graphic for me. Because the setting is one of compassion from the coroner, the EMT’s, and the law enforcement officers, that was not the case. I appreciate the author’s ability to show how those who are tasked with solving crimes and helping victims are able to work their cases, maintain their personal relationships, and perform daily necessary tasks. Balancing all of those roles must be very difficult. Clues don’t always pan out. Sometimes even strong people get sick. Kids can misbehave at the most inopportune of times. Lovers quarrel. But the author shows how those we depend on show up and do their best regardless of the chaos in their own lives.

I would like to extend my thanks to 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: #10 in the Mattie Winston Mystery Series, but the author encapsulates the series background handily for the new reader.

Publication:   February 26, 2019—Kensington Press

Memorable Lines:

“It seems easy at first because you’re so in love with a person, and you feel like you’d be willing to sacrifice anything, do anything, be anything, just so you can be with them. But eventually the shiny finish on that new relationship wears off, revealing the rust and dull metal beneath. And after a while, you start to question how much of yourself you’re willing to give up to make someone else happy.”

…he’s as nervous as a blind man navigating a floor covered with thumbtacks…”

Amazing that so much beauty can come out of all that meteorological fury.

Killalot–Oi! Cockney accented belly dancer?


by Cindy Brown

KillalotOne of the things I like best about the Ivy Meadows Mystery Series is the breadth of concept, the latitude, that the author Cindy Brown has given herself and her main character, Olive Ziegwart, known by the stage name of Ivy Meadows. Ivy is an aspiring actress and to put bread on the table while working whatever roles she can nab, Ivy works part time for her Uncle Bob, who owns his own P.I. agency. Uncle Bob has always been nicer to her than her own parents, and he is training her in detective work. Because of her dual employment, Ivy legitimately encounters lots of interesting cases, and the books can have a variety of settings and characters.

In Killalot, the title being a takeoff on Camelot, Ivy is hired to investigate a murder which she and the rest of the audience at a jousting contest actually witness at a Renaissance Faire. You would think it would be easy to solve a crime you observe, but that is not the case.

I learned quite a bit about Renaissance fairs and birds of prey which were popular in medieval times such as falcons. There is quite an intermix of interesting characters between the Faire and Ivy’s work for a playwright who is trying to create an innovative musical production based on both the Kennedy’s and Camelot. Ivy gets to stretch her acting talents as a belly dancer and as “Marilyn Monroe.”

Danger lurks in the darkness and secrets abound in both worlds. Meanwhile, Ivy has to reach deep inside herself to conquer an old phobia and discover what is more important in her personal arena—her career or her relationship with Matt. Both her mentally disabled brother, Cody, and her Uncle Bob have some words of wisdom for her as she struggles in body, mind, and soul for resolution and peace in this cozy mystery. A good series; a good book!

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: #6 in the Ivy Meadows Mystery Series, but works well as a standalone.

Publication:  November 15, 2018—Henery Press

Memorable Lines:

I knew that living in denial was no good, but I also knew that it was a valuable tool, a way of putting off the tough emotional work until you were strong enough to tackle it.

“After Cody’s accident you went from being a sunny outgoing kid into a little snail curled up in a shell. The only time you poked your head out was when you were onstage. And even then, that was as a character, not as yourself.”

A ball of warmth began to glow inside me, making me warm and light and near to bursting with happiness, like Scrooge when he realizes it’s still Christmas; like George Bailey when he realizes he still has his wonderful life.

Murder with All the Trimmings–catering mystery with a focus on dancers

Murder with All the Trimmings

by Shawn Reilly Simmons

Murder with All the TrimmingsOne of the appealing things about the Red Carpet Catering Mystery Series is that as a caterer associated with a movie star, Penelope Sutherland works in a variety of settings, each with its own catering problems. This setup allows the author, Shawn Reilly Simmons, opportunities for exploring  various kinds of offenses without the main character seeming to follow or be followed by crime. In Murder with All the Trimmings, the setting is the old Vitrine Theater where the Big Apple Dancers perform a show that is a holiday tradition for many locals and a big attraction for tourists. Trouble plagues the show with murder and accidents. Penelope herself is endangered as she tries to get to the bottom of this mystery which involves a missing girl, a neighboring homeless shelter, fraud, and a dine and dash artist.

Murder with All the Trimmings has a complicated plot with lots of interesting threads. In spite of my having lots of interruptions due to travel, I enjoyed this book and had no problem picking up where I left off each time. Although the action occurs at Christmas time, it doesn’t have any warm and fuzzy Christmas connections, but it is a good mystery.

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: # 6 in the Red Carpet Catering Mystery Series, but acceptable as a standalone.

Publication:  November 13, 2018—Henery Press

Much Ado About Murder–Shakespeare in a Civil War era setting

Much Ado About Murder

by Elizabeth J. Duncan

Much Ado about MurderEngland comes to the U.S. in Much Ado About Murder. Charlotte Fairfax is a costume designer formerly with the Royal Shakespeare Company. Audrey Ashley is an actress from a famous English dramatic family; she insists on a particular English director. Set in the Catskills, a production of Much Ado About Nothing is anticipated to draw crowds of tourists to help sustain the town and local hotel. Add in a few Corgis and a lot of tea to round out the British ambiance.

Unfortunately, trouble plagues the production with conflicts, injuries, a murder, and lots of suspects. Charlotte and her wealthy friend Paula, chairperson of the theater board, bear major responsibilities for ironing out difficulties and investigating the murder. Charlotte has support from her boyfriend Ray, the chief of police.

I enjoyed this cozy mystery with its interesting characters and setting. As a drama fan, I particularly appreciated that focus and found that it was integral to the plot rather than contrived. Reading about the difficulties of staging a professional production on a restricted budget in a more remote location got my attention and added an element of fun to the mystery.

I would like to extend my thanks to 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 Shakespeare in the Catskills Mystery Series, but worked well as a standalone for me

Publication:   November 7, 2017—Crooked Lane Books

Memorable Lines:

Audrey shook her head as the server placed a generous slice of apple pie, its latticed crust golden and flaky, warm, cinnamon-laced chunky apple filling oozing onto the plate, in front of each diner. It was accompanied by scoops of homemade French vanilla ice cream and slices of mature cheddar cheese.

Theater rehearsal rooms are almost always closed to outsiders. They’re meant to be safe places where actors can try on a role and wear it for an hour or a day, experiment,  do anything and everything to find the heart and voice of a role, make mistakes, indulge in whimsy and nonsense, until they understand where their character has come from and what he seeks and why he wants it. They do this by playing off other actors, and gradually, as they work out the mechanics of the play and the technical aspects, it comes together as the words are lifted off their pages and take on a life of their own.

Miss Kopp’s Midnight Confessions–moral turpitude in 1916?

Miss Kopp”s Midnight Confessions

by Amy Stewart

Miss Kopp's Midnight ConfessionsAmy Stewart has taken the real story of three sisters in the U.S. in 1916 and fleshed it out as a fictional tale based on her research. The rights of women are so limited in this book that is it hard to conceive of it in the twenty-first century.

Constance Kopp is the first female deputy sheriff in New Jersey and one of the first in the U.S. Many of the problems she deals with involve moral issues which can result in very stiff penalties, especially for women. As the U.S. prepares to enter World War I (1917), girls and women are starting to be employed outside the home working long hours under difficult conditions in factories where they are paid much less than men for the same work. One indicator of the status of women’s rights is that the nineteenth amendment to the Constitution giving women the right to vote was ratified on August 18, 1920.

With this setting in mind, know that there is nothing pedantic about Miss Kopp’s Midnight Confessions. It is composed of very short chapters that make you want to turn the page and keep reading. It deals with cultural and social issues of the time and demonstrates that there can be flexibility, based on reasonableness and sensitivity, within the law. Deputy Sheriff Constance Kopp encounters young women with various problems; she must view them through the prism of the potential for similar issues in her own family.

I would like to extend my thanks to and to Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Historical Fiction

Notes: #3 in the Kopp Sister Novel Series, but can be read as a standalone

Publication:   September 5, 2017—Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Memorable Lines:

Whatever discomforts she might endure, they couldn’t compare to the hardships of a trench in the Argonne. The idea stayed with her, as she grew more accustomed to the tedium of a factory job, the long hours on her feet, her red and swollen fingers, and the dull ache behind her eyes from staring at those spinning threads all day. Her brothers were eager to go overseas and endure far worse. Surely she could bear it for their sake.

She was such a slight, mousy girl, with so little to say, but a steel cable of resolve ran through her. The notions of duty and service and country came as naturally to her as breathing.

Edna had an endless reservoir of determination, and all the high ideals in the world, but she didn’t know how to bluff, or play a trick, or talk her way into a room where she wasn’t invited. She was constitutionally unable to lie or cheat or hide anything—money, jewels, the truth. Minnie could do all of that, and while she didn’t know much about war, she was fairly certain that something in that line might be called for.

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