Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Kneaded to Death (A Bread Shop Mystery)

Author:  Winnie Archer
Genre:  Mystery

Mass Market Paperback; Ebook
ISBN #"  9781496707727
Kensington Publishing
352 Pages
February 28, 2017

✮✮✮✮


Struggling photographer Ivy Culpepper has lots of soul-searching to do since returning to seaside Santa Sofia, California.  That is, until the thirty-six-year-old enters a bread making class at Yeast of Eden.  Whether it's the aroma of fresh conchas in the oven, or her instant connection with owner Olaya Solis, Ivy just knows the missing ingredients in her life are hidden among the secrets of Olaya's bakery...

But Ivy's spirits crumble when a missing classmate is suddenly discovered dead in her car.  Even more devastating, the prime suspect is Olaya Solis herself.  Doubting the woman could commit such a crime, Ivy embarks on a murder investigation of her own to prove her innocence and seize the real killer.  As she follows a deadly trail of crumbs around town, Ivy must trust her gut like never before - or someone else could be toast!

********
When her mother is killed in a hit-and-run accident, Ivy Culpepper returns from Austin, Texas to the small California town where she grew up.  She's having a hard time getting a handle on her grief, so she takes a bread baking class to somewhat ease her pain.

On the first day of class one of the students - Jackie Makers - rushes in late, takes a phone call and rushes out again just as quickly.  When the bakers hear an argument outside, they are drawn to it and Ivy discovers to her dismay that one of the people involved is her high school boyfriend Miguel Batista, and it seems he's also returned to town after leaving abruptly after graduation.  But when Jackie doesn't return to class it's not long before they find her in her car - dead.

What she doesn't count on is that Miguel would also bring with him the ability to confuse her feelings still, nor that she would be drawn into a nasty neighborhood dispute over historic homes.  But the big thing she discovers is that her mother's accident may have been no accident at all...and that the killer may very well have been the same one who killed Jackie...

I did like the idea of Ivy taking a bread making class to cope with her grief, and the recipes sound delicious, but I didn't really feel a connection with any of the characters.  While she supposedly has a history with Miguel, and her brother Billy has a hankering for police officer Emmaline (and she for him), I didn't sense the chemistry between any of the characters.  In fact, the only real chemistry came between Ivy and Penny Branford, an elderly widow who knew her mother and befriends her and becomes a sort-of partner in Ivy's investigations.

However, while I enjoyed the mystery,  I felt that it was wrapped up very quickly, not giving the reader time to decide whether they cared what happened one way or another, due in part to the fact that a character who should have been a big part of the mystery was only in a few pages altogether.  Since this is the first in a new series, a lot can be done with it, and the writing itself is very good; plus the recipes in the back are a nice bonus.  I hope that in the next book we will learn more about Ivy (other than her grieving process) and I look forward to reading more about Santa Sofia, its inhabitants, and of course, Yeast of Eden; a place I imagine all of us bakers would love to spend time in.  Recommended.

https://www.amazon.com/Kneaded-Death-Bread-Shop-Mystery/dp/1496707729/

Goodreads:  https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1863966009

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Death by Chocolate Lab (Lucky Paws Petsitting Mystery)

Author:  Bethany Blake
Genre:  Mystery

Mass Market Paperback; Ebook
ISBN #:  9781496707383
Kensington Publishing
304 Pages
$7.99; $5.99 Amazon
February 28, 2016

✮✮✮



Pet sitter Daphne Templeton has a soft spot for every stray and misfit who wanders into the quaint, lakeside village of Sylvan Creek.  But even Daphne doesn't like arrogant, womanizing Steve Beamus, the controversial owner of Blue Ribbon K-9 Academy.  When Steve turns up dead during a dog agility trial, Daphne can think of a long list of people with motives for homicide, and so can the police.  Unfortunately, at the top of the list is Daphne's sister, Piper - Steve's lastest wronged girlfriend.

Certain that Piper is innocent, in spite of mounting evidence to the contrary, Daphne sets out to clear her sister's name - and find Axis, Steve's prize-winning chocolate Labrador, who went missing the night of Steve's death.  Aided by Socrates, her taciturn basset hound, and a hyperactive one-eared Chihuahua named Artie, Daphne quickly runs afoul of Detective Jonathan Black, a handsome and enigmatic newcomer to town, who has no appreciation for Daphne's unorthodox sleuthing.

Can a free-spirited pet sitter, armed only with a Ph.D. in Philosophy and her two incompatible dogs, find the real killer before she becomes the next victim?

********

Daphne Templeton is a pet-sitter currently caring for an eager Chihuahua who has too much energy, which led him to a dead body.  Now she's the one who's eager to find a killer before her sister winds up in a permanent cage...

Daphne Templeton  is a pet sitter in Sylvan Creek, Pennsylvania.  She has a basset hound named Socrates, and is temporarily caring for Artie, a one-eared Chihuahua with an overbite.  She lives with her veterinarian sister Piper on Piper's Winding Hill Farm, which is going to be the setting for a dog agility trial.  The night before the trial, Steve Beamus arrives to set up the course.  He owns the Blue Ribbon K-9 Training Academy, and is Piper's ex-boyfriend.  Steve may be a very good dog trainer, but he's a terrible person.  He has an abrasive personality, a womanizer, and is condescending to people, which makes him disliked by many.  The next morning, Artie gets loose and runs into one of the tunnels and Daphne goes to retrieve him.  However, it isn't only Artie she finds in the tunnel - it's also the dead body of Steve.

What makes it worse is that Daphne saw Piper arguing with Steve the night before, and the police detective overhears a conversation between Daphne and Piper while they are discussing it.  Unfortunately, it puts Piper front and center as a suspect in Steve's murder.  But Daphne knows Piper couldn't have done it, and since it appears (to her at least) that the police aren't even looking for anyone else, decides to find proof her sister is innocent.  She also wonders where Axis, Steve's champion Labrador, has gone to, since she knows he wouldn't have left Steve willingly, and no one seems to care except her.

When Daphne starts sleuthing on her own, she somehow always winds up in close proximity with a frustrated Detective Jonathan Black, who keeps telling her to stay out of the investigation while she keeps telling him her sister's innocent.  It doesn't help things when Daphne finds another dead body, and that this one might very well have a connection to Steve's death.  Now Daphne needs to find a killer before she winds up as the next victim...

First off, let me say that I really liked Socrates and Artie and the recipes look really good.  I would have liked to enjoyed the character of Daphne more, but she didn't make sense.  She supposedly has a Ph.D. in Philosophy, but doesn't use it. (For those that don't know, a Ph.D. in this subject can take anywhere from 5-7 years beyond undergraduate study - so why would you get one if you're not going to use it?)  I have no idea how she earned it because she seems really flaky and acts more like an 18-year-old instead of 33.  It didn't seem plausible that she would devote that much concentration to study and a dissertation yet can't keep gas in her car or wear a watch to keep track of the time (how does she know when to pick up or return the pets?)

Speaking of which, she's a pet sitter who doesn't have a working cell phone, a reliable vehicle, and doesn't advertise her services...which explains why she's always broke and can't buy a new van.  She also doesn't believe in commitment, which explains the attraction Dylan, a laid-back surfer dude who's her sister's vet assistant, feels for her.  He doesn't believe in commitment either.

Piper seems cold, and her mother Maeve is a super-realtor who obviously favors Piper (because she's just like her, contrary to Detective Black's belief).  She practically ignores anything Daphne says, looks down on her and acts like she's better than anyone else.  A mother like this I can do without.  I do like a cozy where there's a potential love interest later on down the line, but I can't imagine Detective Black being interested in her at all since she's so flaky, and Dylan is just too laid back for me to even care about him.

When the ending comes and we find out the identity of the killer it came as a surprise, and I do think a warped mind is capable of anything.  But I will add that the opening paragraph was flat out funny, and it convinced me to read the rest of the book.  The interactions with the dogs is priceless, and I believe that Ms. Blake could, as the series progresses, give us a fun cozy experience.  As a matter of fact, I have already pre-ordered the next in the series, Dial Meow for Murder, which is due out in September, and I suggest you do the same.  All in all, a decent quick read.

https://www.amazon.com/Death-Chocolate-Lucky-Petsitting-Mystery/dp/1496707389/


More on Bethany Blake's Books:  https://www.fantasticfiction.com/b/bethany-blake/

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Murder on Location (A Charlotte Brody Mystery #3)

Author:  Cathy Pegau
Genre:  Mystery

Trade Paperback; Ebook
ISBN #: 9781496700582
Kensington Publishing
288 Pages
$15.00; $9.99 Amazon
February 28, 2017

✮✮✮✮


In the Alaska Territory, suffragette Charlotte Brody is a newspaper reporter in the frontier town of Cordova.  She's a woman ahead of her time living on the rugged edge of civilization - but right now the most dangerous element she faces may come from sunny California...

An expedition has arrived in the frigid wilderness to shoot North to Fortune - an epic motion picture featuring authentic footage of majestic peaks, vast glaciers, homesteaders, and Alaska Natives.  but the film's fortunes begin to go south as a local Native group grows angry at how they're portrayed in the movie, fights break out, and cast and crew are beset by accidents and assaults.  Finally, production is halted when the inebriated director falls into a crevasse - and dies of exposure.

Soon Michael Brody - the town coroner and Charlotte's brother - starts to suspect that Mother Nature was not responsible for Stanley Welsh's death.  Charlotte, who's been writing about all the Hollywood glamour, is suddenly covering a cold-blooded crime story - and as springtime storms keep the suspects snowed in, she has to make sure the truth doesn't get buried...

********

Charlotte Brody is a newswoman in 1920's Alaskan Territory.  It seems a movie crew is there to film, but they've caused the ire of the Alaskan (territory at that time) natives, who feel they're being portrayed in an unflattering light.  When she arrives at the train station to greet them, there is a group of Native protesters also, who demand that certain scenes in the film be changed to show them positively, not as the villains of the piece.

When Charlotte is invited to attend the filming, she brings along her ward Becca who is to be an extra in the movie.  But Becca's enthusiasm doesn't last long when the next morning the film's director Stanley Welsh is found dead in a crevasse - and Charlotte informs everyone they have to stay put while both the coroner, her brother Michael and law enforcement - in the form of Deputy James Eddington - arrive to examine the scene.

Once it is discovered that Stanley was indeed murdered, then the task of finding the killer becomes paramount.  They know it had to be someone in the remote camp, but since Stanley rubbed many people the wrong way - including his daughter, Cicely - finding the person responsible won't be easy.  Especially since the producer wants the movie stopped, but  Cicely, the new director, wants to proceed along with the rest of the crew.  And Charlotte finds out that the movie has had its share of bad luck already, long before a death was added into the equation.
 
Charlotte, in her role as a reporter, is just the person to help with the investigation, since she can ask questions and the film might be more willing to talk to her, being a journalist and not an officer of the law.  She's promised to share anything she learns with James, who is also her beau.  But when Charlotte starts digging just a little too deep, and the accidents that have been plaguing the cast of the movie grow, the next one might just be one accident too many...

While I felt the book started out a little slow, things began to pick up once the murder was committed.  I felt at that point the book began to get more interesting; and while I thought there were a couple of scenes that felt odd (like people actually encouraging her to have sex) it didn't distract from my enjoyment of the book.

When we come to the end and the killer is revealed, it makes one realize that self-preservation is indeed a strong motive for some; and those that are the most heroic don't always appear to be so in the beginning.  An enjoyable read that is recommended to all.



More on Cathy Pegau's Books:  https://www.fantasticfiction.com/p/cathy-pegau/


Thursday, March 2, 2017

Dead Spider (Loon Lake Fishing Mysteries)

Author:  Victoria Houston
Genre:  Mystery

Hardcover; Ebook
ISBN #:  9781440598807
Tyrus Books
208 Pages
$16.48; $12.99 Amazon
June 6, 2017

✮✮✮✮✮


A lovely Sunday afternoon in late June and the annual Loon Lake Youth Fishing Tournament is coming to a close.  People are happy, kids full of ice cream and teenagers setting off firecrackers so loud no one hears the gunshot.  But when the crowd thins out an attractive young wife makes a grisly discovery: A single bullet to the brain has killed her much-older husband-the richest man in Wisconsin.

Just as Loon Lake Police Chief Lewellyn Ferris gets the murder investigation underway, her good friend and deputy coroner, "Doc" Osborne, is alarmed to hear his oldest grandchild, fifteen-year-old Beth, has been caught in a drug sting.

And Loon Lake's idyllic summer is further shattered when numerous elderly patients in Loon Lake's nursing home discover they have been robbed.

********

On a sunny summer afternoon the town of Loon Lake, Wisconsin is having fun at the annual Loon Lake Youth Fishing Tournament.  The tournament is sponsored by Chuck Pfeiffer, owner of a chain of sporting stores across several states.  Chuck, possessor of a young wife and an unsavory past isn't well-liked; and this is never more apparent than when, shortly after the tournament ends, he is found slumped in his chair - under a bright yellow awning - dead; shot in the head at close range.

Not the end to the fishing tournament that Police Chief Lew Ferris expected - especially since the dead man was the richest man in Wisconsin, and a friend of the mayor.  So Lew is given extra funds to find the killer of Pfeiffer, and fast.  Along with Dr. Paul 'Doc' Osborne, retired dentist, part-time deputy coroner and longtime close friend, she also has the help of Bruce Peters, a forensic specialist with the Wausau Crime Lab.

But finding Chuck's killer isn't going to be easy.  There are plenty of people who wouldn't mind seeing an end to him; he'd done nothing in his life but take what he wanted, even if it meant destroying others to do so.  No, he wasn't liked by many, but still he was dead and it was Lew's job to find out who pulled the trigger.

But Doc has more on his plate when his fifteen-year-old granddaughter, Beth, is caught with her friends who were trying to buy drugs.  Even though she's cleared of any wrongdoing herself, she makes an ill-advised statement that could lead to trouble later on down the line.  Unfortunately, Beth thinks she has to handle it on her own since she knows she made a mistake and doesn't want to admit it to her family.

Then it's discovered that a local nursing home was burglarized, with guns, money, and jewelry being stolen, and with the murder front and central, Lew is beginning to stretch herself pretty thin, not to mention it isn't helping Doc since he's also trying to give Lew a very special birthday present and hopes he'll have it in time - but with an unsolved murder in view, Lew and Doc are going to have to do some fishing of their own to expose a killer...

As the 17th book in the Loon Lake Fishing Mysteries, Dead Spider proves that long-running series do not always wind up lifeless.  Ms. Jackson's characters are human and with each new book we see a different side to the characters making them believable and real.  Doc's feelings for Lew run deep and while we know she feels the same for him, Lew keeps a tighter hold on her emotions.  But it is quite a bit of fun to watch Ray Pradt, Doc's neighbor and local fishing guide, while he tries to convince a woman he's fallen for that fishing is actually a good thing.

When the ending comes and the murderer is finally revealed, it is at the same time rather sad yet understood.  I would like to say more, but in doing so I am afraid it would give away the answers, and this I will not do.  Suffice it to say that the ending is very good indeed, and makes us realize why we keep reading the books in this series - they are written well and Ms. Houston never disappoints.  Highly recommended.

https://www.amazon.com/Dead-Spider-Loon-Fishing-Mysteries/dp/1440598800/


More on Victoria Houston's Books:  https://www.fantasticfiction.com/h/victoria-houston/