Wednesday, September 28, 2016

The Book Club Murders

Author:  Leslie Nagel
Series:  The Oakwood Mysteries #1
Genre:  Cozy Mystery
Publisher:  Alibi
Publication Date:  September 27, 2016

Description:  Charley Carpenter has poured heart and soul into her clothing store, Old Hat Vintage Fashions. She’ll do anything to make it a success—even join the stuffy Agathas Book Club in order to cultivate customers among the wealthy elite of Oakwood, Ohio.
Although mixing with the most influential women in town has its advantages, Charley finds the endless gossip a high price to pay. But after two women with close ties to the Agathas are brutally murdered, everyone falls under threat—and suspicion. When key evidence indicates that both murders are the work of the same hand, Charley realizes that the killer has arranged each corpse in perfect imitation of crime scenes from the Club’s murder mystery reading list. She uses her membership in the Club to convince Detective Marcus Trenault to use her as an inside informant. Not that he could stop her anyway.
Intelligent, fearless, and every bit as stubborn as Marc is, Charley soon learns the Agathas aren’t the only ones with secrets to protect. Passions explode as she and Marc must race against time to prevent another murder. And if Charley’s not careful, she may find herself becoming the killer’s next plot twist.

My Review

This is the debut cozy mystery for Leslie Nagel and I thought it was a terrific debut.  It might be a little edgier than some might consider a cozy in that there is plenty of cursing peppered throughout the dialogue.  If this is a turn off for you as a reader this might not be the book for you.  That said, I thought this was a well written, fast paced page turner and I will definitely be back for more.

Charley is a great protagonist.  I thought she was intelligent, stubborn and dedicated to trying to find out who is behind the recent murders in Oakwood.  Frankie, her best friend since high school is her companion for most of the sleuthing, and in some cases influences Charley to start investigating in the first place.  These two have a great friendship and it comes across on the pages of this story.  At first I wasn't too fond of Marc as I thought he was harsh and judgmental.  However, as his history unfolds and his past with Charley plays out he began to grow on me and by the end I was rooting for the budding romance between the two.  The Agatha's round out the rest of the cast nicely and provide plenty of suspects.

I like the mystery in this story.  It was a bit different from other's that I have read.  But I especially enjoyed how the book club reads were incorporated into this mystery.  There were a lot of twists to this story and plenty of suspects.  The author has, in my opinion, done a superb job in crafting this mystery in such a way that I never really had a firm suspect.  In the end I was surprised by the identity of the culprit and the reason.

All in all, I thought this was a well written story that had me engaged from the beginning.  It has a fast pace, well plotted mystery and great characters.  This series definitely started with a bang and I will be back to see what this author has in store for future books.

I received an ARC from the publisher through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This did no influence my opinion and the thoughts expressed are my own.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

A Familiar Tale

Author:  Delia James
Series:  A Witch's Cat Mystery #1
Genre:  Cozy Mystery
Publisher:  NAL
Publication Date:  February 2016

Description:  Unlucky-in-love artist Annabelle Britton decides that a visit to the seaside town of  Portsmouth, New Hampshire, is the perfect way to get over her problems. But when she stumbles upon a smoky gray cat named Alastair, and follows him into a charming cottage, Annabelle finds herself in a whole spellbook full of trouble.

Suddenly saddled with a witch's wand and a furry familiar, Annabelle soon meets a friendly group of women who use their spells, charms, and potions to keep the people of Portsmouth safe. But despite their gifts, the witches can’t prevent every wicked deed in town....

Soon, the mystery surrounding Alistair’s former owner, who died under unusual circumstances, grows when another local turns up dead. Armed with magic, friends, and the charmed cat who adopted her more than the other way around, Annabelle sets out to paw through the evidence and uncover a killer.

My Review

This book has been on my TBR pile for most of the year now.  For whatever reason I just haven't had a chance to read it so when I noticed book two was released I bumped this book up to the top of the pile.  I was glad that I did because I found this to be a very enjoyable paranormal cozy mystery.  This author did a wonderful job of creating a charming, magical, paranormal cozy that just seemed to grab me right from the start with its well written characters and intriguing mystery.

For the first book in a new series, Ms. James has done a wonderful job crafting quirky, likable characters that are full rounded and engaged the reader right from the start.  Anna is a great heroine.   She is smart, likable and prone to a bit of sarcasm without being obnoxious.   What starts out as a trip to visit a friend takes Anna out of her comfort zone and into a family history that was unknown to her.  I liked that when she discovered her magical abilities she didn't just jump right in and accept everything.  Rather, she approached each of the magical situations she found herself in with hesitation.  There is a nice, diverse, well rounded cast of secondary characters that make this story interesting.  And Alistair, Anna's inherited familiar is full of surprises as well.

The mystery was well plotted and woven nicely throughout the story.  Ms. James does a nice job of weaving twists and turns in the mystery while balancing that with giving the reader enough back story without detracting from the pace of the book.  There are plenty of suspects to choose from and with everyone seeming having a secret to hide the identity of the killer was not easily discernible, at least from me.  I was pleasantly surprised by the identity of the killer by the motive was realistic.

In sum, I thought that this was a terrific first in a new paranormal cozy mystery for Ms. James.  It is a charming read full of magic, murder, mystery and wonderful characters that are well developed and for the most part likable.  I will definitely be back to see what is next for Anna and her new found coven.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

The Calamity Cafe

Author:  Gayle Leeson
Series:   A Down South Cafe Mystery #1
Genre:  Cozy Mystery
Publisher:  Obsidian Mystery
Published:  June 7, 2016

Description:  Tired of waiting tables at Lou’s Joint, Amy Flowers doesn’t just quit—she offers to buy the place from her bully of a boss, so she can finally open the café of her dreams. Amy can't wait to serve the kind of Southern, down-home treats and dishes that her grandmother always loved to the kooky cast of regulars at the restaurant. She knows her comfort food will be the talk of the sweet, small town of Winter Garden, Virginia.

At first Lou Lou refuses to sell, but when she seems ready to make a deal, she tells Amy to come see her.  Showing up at the eatery ready to negotiate, Amy is shocked to find her former employer murdered. As the prime suspect, Amy will have to clear her name by serving up the real killer—and with Lou Lou’s stack of enemies, that’s a tall order.

My Review

This is the first book in a new series by Gayle Leeson and while I liked it, there was just one aspect of the book that detracted from my overall enjoyment.  The book is well written and has a nice steady pace that moves the story along.  It has a well crafted mystery and wonderful characters.

The characters in this story are well written, full, round characters.  I like Amy Flowers as a main character.  She is determined to follow her dream of opening her own cafe  and is overall very likable.  What really came through in the pages of this story is the friendship between Amy, Jackie and Roger.  It was well done by the author and you could fell their genuine like for each other as the story unfolded.  There is also a little bit of romance brewing for both Jackie and Amy which did not overshadow the mystery.  I also liked Homer and looked forward to who would be his hero each day and why.  Aunt Bess and Amy's mom rounded out the secondary cast well.

The mystery was well plotted.  It unfolded slowly over the course of the book and the identity of the killer was not readily evident, at least to me.  There are several suspects to choose from and plenty of twists to keep the reader guessing.  I was about 3/4 of the way through the book before I figured out the identity of the killer.  What I had the most problem with is Amy's insistence that she had to solve the murder herself because she was a suspect and "her life was on the line."  For me, this part of the story just didn't resonate.  Yes, Amy found the body of Lou Lou and there was one other small piece of circumstantial evidence, but the rest of the story did not support her belief.  Other than after she found the body, Amy was not questioned by the police and Deputy Hall told her that while she was a suspect because she found the body he didn't believe she was the killer.  To make Amy's belief more credible for me, I would have liked the author to provide more evidence and/or clues even if circumstantial that pointed to Amy.

In sum, I thought the story was well written with a steady pace that kept the reader turning page with a nicely crafted mystery and full, round characters.  I just had trouble with Amy's instance that she had to find the killer because her life was on the line.  I liked the book well enough that I will give the second book in the series a try when it is  released.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

By Cook or by Crook

Author:  Maya Corrigan
Series:  A Five Ingredient Mystery #1
Genre:  Cozy Mystery
Publisher:  Kensington
Published:  November 2014

Description:  Take one burned-out city girl. Add a crusty codger, a pinch of gossip, and a dash of romance. Stir in a generous helping of murder and you've got the ingredients for one truly delicious mystery. . .

Haunted by the car accident that ended her career as a cookbook publicist, Val Deniston has traded in the chaos of New York City for a quieter life near the Chesapeake Bay. Living with her curmudgeonly grandfather in the tourist town of Bayport is hardly glamorous, but she enjoys working at the Cool Down Café at the local fitness club, and she finally has time to work on her long-planned cookbook. But when one of the club's patrons is found dead, she'll have to cook up a scheme to find the killer. As the number of suspects rises like crabs in a bucket, it's out of the pan and into the fire for Val. If she can't find the culprit soon, she might as well be chum in the water.

My Review

As you can tell from the publication date on this book, it is another one that has been on my TBR pile for quite awhile now.  I have to be honest and say it feels pretty good to be digging into the pile and making progress on dwindling it down.

This is the first book that I have read by this author and I found it to be a very enjoyable read.  The author has a fluid writing style that kept the pace of the book moving along until the big reveal at the end of the story.

For a first book in a series, I thought this story had a good cast of characters that were well written.  I thought the author did a good job of developing the characters as the story progressed allowing the reader to get to know them much better.   Val was very likable as the protagonist.  She was an accidental sleuth out to clear the name of her cousin but always made sure she kept in touch with the police regarding her theories and the events that were unfolding.  

I liked the theme of the book being centered around five - five ingredients, five suspects, five clues, etc.  The five suspects provided plenty of clues, twists and turns througout the story. The suspects were plausible and for the most part the motives were believable.  I thought the author did a nice job of tying togther a couple of plots/mysteries that seemed to be unrelated but in the end connected together very well in a realistic manner.

The only thing missing for me was that I didn't feel like we got to know the town.  Part of what I enjoy about cozy mysteries set in a small town is when the author describes the place and settings so that the reader can almost picture themselves wandering the streets or stopping in the restaurants.  Unfortunately, I didn't get that from this book.  I didn't make me like the book any less, I guess I felt it would have been nice to be able to picture the town, the cafe or the diner as I was reading the story.

I thought this was an enjoyable book with an interesting premise around the five theme.  I liked the characters and enjoyed the mystery.  I will be back to check out the book number two in this series.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Spells and Scones

Author:  Bailey Cates
Series:  A Magical Bakery Mystery #6
Genre:  Cozy Mystery
Publisher:  NAL
Published:  July 26, 2016

Description:  When the bookshop next to the Honeybee Bakery hosts a signing for a Savannah radio celebrity's new self-help book, magical baker Katie Lightfoot is happy to provide some delectable desserts. A big crowd has turned out for the event, curious about the book (and maybe to sample some goodies), but the final chapter comes too soon for the author when she is found dead at the event.

The prime suspect is Angie Kissel, a former witch whose familiar was once Katie’s own terrier, Mungo. Katie is at first hesitant to help, afraid of losing the little dog who has become so important to her. But after a little nudge from Mungo himself, Katie decides to try to conjure up the real killer—before Angie gets served.

My Review

I think this is a terrific series and each new installment goes on my automatic buy list.  I find it to be well written with a delightful, whimsical cast of characters and strong mysteries. Ms. Cates has such a wonderful descriptive writing style that you can almost smell whatever is baking at The Honeybee Bakery.

In this installment, Katie Lightfoot is once again at the place of a suspicious death.  Being a light witch is certainly no walk in the park.  I really enjoy Katie as a protagonist.  At this point in the series she is a well developed character who is really coming into her own with her magical powers but the author has written her in such a way that there is still plenty of room for growth in her powers and in her personal relationship.  The coven is also a great cast of secondary characters.  They are there to support Katie and help her grow, but we also get to see their characters grow as well.  The romance with Katie and Declan is progressing well.  I don't feel like it has been rushed and things do take a bit  of a turn in this book.  I love Katie's familiar Mungo and he got his own little plot twist in this book as well.

The mystery was well plotted and the clues nicely woven throughout the story.  As with the other books in this series, there are plenty of viable suspects.  I like that Katie tries to work with the police even if Quinn thinks she is interfering and hasn't yet realized how helpful she really is to solving cases.  Throughout the story I had two characters I suspected of being the killer but I just kept going back and forth and couldn't make up my mind.  In the end, I guessed on of them correctly but that didn't take away from the enjoyment.

As I said in the beginning, I think this is a delightful series that has been well developed with whimsical characters, strong mysteries and well plotted stories that keep readers engaged throughout each book and coming back to see what the author has in story next.  I will definitely be back to check in on Katie and the rest of the gang at the Honeybee Bakery.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

This Old Homicide

Author:  Kate Carlisle
Series:  A Fixer Upper Mystery #2
Genre:  Cozy Mystery
Publisher:  NAL
Publication Date:  January 2015

Description:  Contractor and part-time sleuth Shannon Hammer specializes in improving the quirks and flaws of the Victorian homes in Lighthouse Cove, California. The quirks and flaws of their residents are another story.... 
Valentine’s Day is approaching, and while Shannon is delighted to be friends with not one but two handsome men, not everyone in town is feeling the love. After her elderly neighbor Jesse Hennessey fails to make his daily appearance at the local diner, Shannon swings by his place to check on him. Not only does she find Jesse dead—of an apparent heart attack—but she also realizes that his home has been ransacked.

Someone suggests that a thief was searching for a priceless necklace Jesse claimed to have retrieved from a capsized sailing ship, but Shannon doesn’t believe it. Everyone knows Jesse had a penchant for constructing tall tales—like the one about him having a hot new girlfriend. But his death is soon ruled a homicide, and shady suspects begin popping out of the woodwork. When another victim turns up dead, Shannon is convinced she must find the killer before someone else gets nailed.

My Review

This second book in the Fixer Upper Mystery series by Kate Carlisle was as enjoyable for me as the first book.  Ms.  Carlisle once again demonstrates her talent for crafting a well written mystery full of interesting fun characters and an intriguing mystery.

Shannon Hammer is a likable main character and I enjoy that she runs her own contracting business. What I find appealing with the characters is the friendship between Shannon, Jane, Lizzie, Emily and Marigold. They have a wonderful friendship that is tangible and feels genuine to me as a reader.  These women have intelligence and provide some wit to the story.  Especially with their former high school "mean girls" who just can't seem to grow up.  Ms. Carlisle also has a great descriptive writing style so the story flows and the reader can almost picture themselves walking through the town of Lighthouse Cove. There is a bit of a possible romantic dilemma for Shannon but I don't think I would call it a love triangle (yet).

She always knows how to craft a well plotted mystery that unfolds nicely over the course of the story.  Ms. Carlisle offered up plenty of suspects and provided the reader with many plausible theories of the crime, which gave me a challenge in trying to figure out the identity of Jesse's killer.  There were a few twists that surprised me and I the killer's identity was revealed in a climatic ending. 

I am looking forward to continuing with this series and will be back to for more.
   In fact, the third book in the series is in my TBR pile and I need to get through that one before book four is released in early November.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

A Dark and Stormy Murder

Author:  Julia Buckley
Series:  A Writer's Apprentice Mystery #1
Genre:  Cozy Mystery
Publisher:  Berkley Prime Crime
Publication Date:  July 5, 2016

Description:  Lena London's literary dreams are coming true—as long as she can avoid any real-life villains...
Camilla Graham’s bestselling suspense novels inspired Lena London to become a writer, so when she lands a job as Camilla’s new assistant, she can’t believe her luck. Not only will she help her idol craft an enchanting new mystery, she’ll get to live rent-free in Camilla’s gorgeous Victorian home in the quaint town of Blue Lake, Indiana.
But Lena’s fortune soon changes for the worse. First, she lands in the center of small town gossip for befriending the local recluse. Then, she stumbles across one thing that a Camilla Graham novel is never without—a dead body, found on her new boss’s lakefront property.
Now Lena must take a page out of one of Camilla’s books to hunt down clues in a real crime that seems to be connected to the novelist’s mysterious estate—before the killer writes them both out of the story for good.

My Review

This is the first book I have read by author Julia Buckley and I have to say I thought it was absolutely terrific.  It is the first in her new Writer's Apprentice Mystery series and I think this series will definitely be a hit for Ms. Buckley.  I have read quite a few first books in new series this year but in my opinion this one is in the top five best.

First off, I thought the premise for the story was unique and fresh.  The book itself was well written with a great plot that felt like the homage to Gothic romantic suspense books that it was meant to be.  I enjoyed the characters and both mysteries.  I was completely engaged throughout the entire story and I hope there are many more adventures for this group of characters in the future.

Lena was a wonderful protagonist.  She was independent, smart, warm and eager to meet and work with her idol Camilla Graham.  And for her part, Camilla was written as the perfect aging author taking a young writer under her wings.  The pair were very well matched and complemented each other perfectly.  The secondary characters  were also well written and rounded out the cast nicely.  Sam West is the dark brooding hero who falls for the slightly younger woman who brings light into to his world.  Doug Heller is the cop who wants to protect Lena from the brooding Sam West while trying to solve a murder.  I am not a fan of the love triangle in books, so readers will be happy to know that Lena clearly makes her choice and the budding romance issue is resolved by the end of the book.

The mysteries in the story were very well done.  They provide another homage to Gothic romantic suspense novels with the twists and turns coupled with the stately old manner that has secrets of its own.  The mystery involving the murder is tied up nicely by the end of the book and provides the reason behind much of the excitement throughout the story.  As for the mystery of Sam's wife, well our little group of detectives will be working on that one into the next book.  I didn't feel as if something was missing when that mystery surrounding Sam's wife was not solved.  In fact, I enjoy stories where the secondary mystery runs throughout future books.

In the end, I thought this was a fabulous first in a new series for Julie Buckley.  It is a terrific nod to a genre the author clearly loves and she has done a terrific job paying homage.  In addition, the book is engaging with a pace that will keep the reader turning pages and a story that is full of well written characters and intriguing mysteries.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Gone With the Witch

Author:  Heather Blake
Series:  A Wishcraft Mystery #6
Genre:  Cozy Mystery
Publisher:  Obsidian
Publication Date:  May 3, 2016

Description:  Darcy and her dog Missy are determined to put their best foot forward at the Enchanted Village’s annual Pawsitively Enchanted pet contest. She’s happy to lend a hand when the show’s organizer hires Darcy to keep an eye on things among growing suspicions that someone is sabotaging the event. But Darcy’s quest for justice is thrown off the scent when her lead suspect is found dead at the competition.
As if a murder weren’t bad enough, someone begins snatching up prize-winning pets right from under their owners’ noses. Darcy is determined to protect the pampered participants at whatever cost. But she’ll have to work fast to sniff out the thief before she becomes the next victim of a killer determined to stop her dead in her tracks.

My Review

Heather Blake is at the top of my list of favorite cozy mystery authors.  I read every series that she writes and her storytelling never disappoints.  Her writing style has a wonderful tone and descriptive quality that just enchants the reader not matter what series they are reading. The sixth book in the Wishcraft Mystery series delivers everything I have come to expect from this author and more.

This series is positively enchanting.  It is full of charm, magic, spells, romance and mystery. To top it off, the story is set in a wonderful small town made up of magical and non-magical residents.  Darcy and the rest of the cast of characters are beautifully written.  They are rich, full, well rounded characters that feel like old friends to me.  Each book gives us another glimpse into their lives and their growth both personally and for some magically.  I love the relationship between Darcy and her aunt Ve, as well as with her sister Harper.  I also really enjoy the romance between Nick and Darcy and where the author is going with their story.   In this installment we get to confirmation on the identity of the Elder, which some may have guessed after some of the clues in prior books.  It will also be interesting to see what happens with Darcy's dog Missy as Darcy's relationship with Nick and his daughter progresses.

The mystery in this installment was well crafted.  Ms. Blake always provides us with good solid mysteries as a starting point but loves to throw the reader off track by weaving twists and turns throughout the story.  Of course, I always fall for them.  In the end, I did not guess the identity of the killer until it was revealed (which as you know is no big surprise).  The story plot was well written and the pace of the book will have the reader turning pages.

Ms. Blake is a very talented author whose writing has the ability to transport her readers to an enchanting town full of charm, magic, romance, well written characters and a mystery that will keep you guessing until the end.  If you haven't tried this author I would recommend her to anyone who wants a well written, highly entertaining story.  You won't be disappointed.