Monday, March 19, 2018

Farewell, My Cuckoo (A Birds of a Feather Mystery #4)

Author:  Marty Wingate
Genre:  Mystery

Digital Book
Alibi Publishing
$4.99 Amazon
April 10, 2018


Wedding bells are ringing in the small British village of Smeaton-under-Lyme.  Julia Lanchester's second-in-command at the local tourist center is finally getting married, and the lovebirds are giving Julia and her live-in boyfriend, Michael Sedgwick, ideas about their own future.  But before anyone can say "Will you," Michael's flighty older sister, Pammy, crashes the party, fresh off a breakup and lugging all her worldly possessions around with her in a tangle of plastic bags.

Before long, Julia's cozy cottage starts feeling more like Pammy's bachelorette pad.  To keep herself from going cuckoo, Julia throws herself into her pet projects at work - until death disrupts her plans.  First a body is found on the estate.  Then the police discover that Pammy was the last one to see the man alive.  And soon Julia gets the feeling that if she ever wants her home - or her boyfriend - back, she'll have to get to the bottom of this mystery, even if it means breaking a few eggs.


When Julia Lanchester and Michael Sedgwick, her live-in boyfriend, return from a wedding of two locals, love is definitely in the air.  Julia can sense that Michael is about to propose, and it seems that he very nearly does, when his sister Pammy arrives on their doorstep...with everything she owns.  It appears that Pammy's latest relationship - with a married man - has broken up and she's nowhere to go.  So Julia and Michael reluctantly allow her to stay for one night in their tiny cottage until she can reach her friend Amy.

But one night turns into two, then three, then...well, you get the idea.  It doesn't look like Pammy is going anywhere soon, and neither is Michael's proposal.  So they try to get on with their lives, with Julia running the TIC (tourist information center) at the Fotheringill estate, and Michael, who works with Julia's father Rupert, is reluctantly filming a sequence with Julia's old beau, Gavin Lecky.  Michael doesn't like Gavin at all, and he likes him even less when Gavin spies Pammy and is instantly taken with her.

But Julia has another problem, too.  A man's body was found by her friend Willow who works at the school and is engaged to Lord Fotheringill's son Cecil.  Willow has become distraught at finding him, and no one seems to know who he is.  At least Willow has the comfort of her aunt Lottie to help her when Cecil is not around.

Then Julia has an unfortunate encounter with a man at a tea shop, and is not happy when he shows up in the village at the shop of her friend Nuala.  It appears he's interested in Nuala, and Julia knows Linus, Lord Fotheringill, is also interested in her so she decides to step in and take a hand.

A nice family of four has also arrived at the TIC to explore the estate and like it so well they return the next weekend.  When Julia figures out that they may have encountered the dead man (before he was deceased, obviously) she decides to contact them in the hope they may have information regarding who he is.  She actually becomes chummy with the mother who is a graphic designer and starts helping them design pamphlets for the TIC.

Then there's the problem of a local farmer who was certified organic but Julia discovers he has ruined his fields.  He knew Bob and even employed him once in a while, and Julia begins to wonder if he didn't do the man in because he knew what was done.

But the only thing anyone truly knows is that the poor dead man was named Bob, and nothing else.  Yet somehow, someone must have, because poor Bob is now dead and at the morgue.  And somehow, again, these stories become interlaced and have more of a connection to Bob than anyone realizes.  It is nearly too late when Julia starts putting it all together and what a tale it becomes...

This book, as all the others in the series, was a true delight to read.  Julia Lanchester quietly puts up with Pammy, who's flighty and seems to have no direction in life.  It is only when Gavin enters the picture does it seem that Pammy might actually want to do something worthwhile; and Julia sees it as a way to eventually get back the home that Pammy has made her own.

There's enough intrigue and mystery here to keep anyone interested, and while at first it seems there is a lot going on, it all comes together nicely at the end.  Julia has more patience than I ever would given the situation at hand; but unfortunately I didn't care for Pammy very much.  While she may have seemed like a nice enough person, she rather insinuated herself in Julia's home and roving about the village while insisting she'd leave soon.  Nothing pointed to her leaving, and family or not, she seemed to me to be an opportunist, one of the worst type of people there are.  She was also too whiny for my taste.  (I'm hoping Gavin will redeem her).

Which isn't to say I didn't enjoy her part in the book; she was just as important as any of the other secondary characters, we just can't like everyone, can we?  (I think a lot of it was the fact that she just moved in lock, stock and barrel without notice or even trying to go anywhere else and didn't care that she was trashing someone else's home).

But the tale was masterfully written; the writing crisp and lively, the settings descriptive and broad, and the characters animated and believable.  This is a village I would definitely want to visit, and these are people I love spending time with.  Julia belongs to Smeaton-under-Lyme; she truly loves the estate, Linus, her friends, family, and of course, Michael.  It shows in her dedication to her job and the people around her.  It shows in the fact that she doesn't want a dead man not to be mourned, and wants to find out as much about him as she can.

Julia has heart, and that's an important characteristic in any human being.  She cares.  And that, my friends, is what makes the Birds of a Feather mysteries so very good.  This is the fourth book in the series, and I would be hard pressed to pick a favorite as they are all so well done.  Highly recommended.


More on Marty Wingate's Books:

Friday, March 16, 2018

Death of a Bacon Heiress (Hayley Powell Food and Cocktails Mystery #7)

Author:  Lee Hollis
Genre:  Mystery

Mass Market Paperback; MP3 CD; Digital Book
ISBN #:  9781496702524; 9781531835675
Kensington Publishing
320 Pages
$7.99; $9.99; $5.99 Amazon
March 29, 2016

When Hayley is invited to do a cooking demo on one of daytime's most popular talk shows, it's a welcome distraction from her empty nest blues.  And the newfound fame certainly has its perks - especially when Olivia Redmond, the posh bacon heiress of Redmond Meats, offers Hayley a writing gig with a juicy paycheck.

But Hayley's good fortune fizzles fast.  The heiress is found dead with her pot-bellied pig, Pork Chop, squealing bloody murder beside her body, and clogged arteries aren't to blame.  It turns out Olivia's inherited a wealth of enemies over the years, and as Hayley trims the fat off a mounting list of suspects, it's clear that being rich and hot-tempered can be a recipe for disaster...


Well, I hate to say it, but even I have to give up what little hope I was holding out for this series to improve.  I read and I read, hoping against hope that something, anything would change to make this series better.  Instead I came to a revelation that pretty much ended it for me.

I've realized that not a single woman in the book has a decent relationship.  Mona hates her [lazy] husband, Liddy keeps finding new boyfriends; and Hayley keeps a boyfriend for a few months and they break up.  You know, if this were a group of men instead of a group of women, there'd be a few choice words to say about them.  Losers.  Players.  Drunks. Jerks.  Good-for-Nothing.  But because they're women it's just bad choices?

The finality for me was the fact that in the last book Hayley and Aaron seemed to be progressing nicely in their relationship and falling in love.  But then out of the blue they decide to break up because they're not right for each other?  (No spoiler here since you see it coming from the first pages).  What?  Who wants to read a series where every female (or male) is lousy at relationships?  I have a great one, so do my sisters, friends, etc., but I guess they’re not right for each other but in the previous book they were right for each other?  WTH?  Who wants to read a series where every female is lousy at relationships?  I have a great relationship, so do my sisters, friends, etc., so I guess three loser women can hang out together but I sure don’t want to read about them.  Maybe if they'd give up the booze for awhile (or at least go easy) they'd be able to figure out what was wrong with their lives and do something about it.  Not to mention a situation with Mona just seems so over the top.  Right...a woman with seven children.  Uh-huh.  Soooo believable...

I also couldn't get past the fact that a woman who owns a bacon empire would keep a pig as a pet.  A pig.  As a pet.  And makes her money in bacon.  Yeah, and I know a beef salesman that keeps a cow as a pet, too.  Another unbelievable scenario.  You don't keep your food as pets (unless you're the most insensitive mooch on the planet).

In the end, it's not that I'm promoting you need a man (or woman) to make you happy.  Many, many women do well without one (including one of my sisters).  But if you're going to write a series about three friends, why are all of them bad at relationships?  It's not plausible.  And Hayley has a crappy job that never gets any better, and no money.  Jeez, I guess I just got tired of being depressed every time I read one of these books.


More on Lee Hollis's Books:

Death of a Cupcake Queen (A Hayley Powell Food and Cocktails Mystery #6)

Author:  Lee Hollis
Genre:  Mystery

Mass Market Paperback; Digital Book; Audiobook
ISBN #:  9780758294531
Kensington Publishing
311 Pages
$7.99; $5.99 Amazon
May 26, 2015


On the eve of her high school reunion, Hayley dreads seeing the trio of mean girls who used to torment her; Sabrina Merryweather, Nykki Temple, and former prom queen Ivy Foster.  These days Ivy wears a different crown as the cupcake queen - and flaunting her success is just the icing on the cake.

But maybe the prom queen should have been voted Most Likely to Die.  At the reunion, Ivy is found murdered, cupcakes scattered around her.  Is a killer out to teach the mean girls a lesson?  As Hayley tries to get the scoop, she'll have to be careful...or someone may be writing this columnist's obituary next.


When Hayley Powell is railroaded into providing food for her high school reunion, she doesn't expect that the only other person with food will be murdered before the cupcakes are even set out.  One of the mean girls in school, Ivy Foster, is found murdered in the kitchen of the club where they're holding the reunion.  While several people aren't surprised - Ivy was not a nice person and even had no problem fighting with her husband in public - someone hated her enough to bash her head in.  And Hayley, knowing somehow Sabrina might be involved, decides to find the killer....

Well, let me first say that the best part of this book is Hayley's phone.  I want one.  Because in one scene, someone takes it and smashes it against the wall, and in the very next, she pulls it out of her pocket to answer it.  Wow.  Who wouldn't want a phone that magically reassembles itself after something like that?  You get my drift...

Now, the rest of the review is a huge spoiler, because it's the end of the book and tells why it was bad.  Please don't read if you haven't already read this book or are planning on never doing so.  It gives the ending away!

So, if you've read the spoiler, then you'll understand why this book was a huge disappointment.  It rather ruins the rest of the book when the ending doesn't make any sense.


More on Lee Hollis's Books:

Thursday, March 15, 2018

A Grave Issue (A Funeral Parlor Mystery)

Author:  Lillian Bell
Genre:  Mystery

Hardcover; Trade Paperback; Digital Book
ISBN #:  9781683314905; 9781683317258
Crooked Lane Books
288 Pages
$26.99; $15.99; $7.80 Amazon
February 13, 2018


After an on-air gaffe goes viral and jeopardizes her career, journalist Desiree Turner retreats home to Verbena, California, for some peace and quiet.  She begins working in one of the quietest jobs around: presiding over funerals for her great-grandfather's funeral parlor.  But the actions seems to follow her when a fistfight breaks out between neighbors Rosemarie Brewer and Lola Hansen at one of Desiree's first funerals.  When it exposes a nasty dispute, Rosemarie's husband, Alan, is found murdered shortly after.

Lola's husband, Kyle, is immediately arrested.  Desiree, whose own father's death was devastating, has always viewed Kyle as a second father.  Determined to clear his name, Desiree jumps headfirst into the investigation and quickly discovers that Alan had several unsavory habits at his job and in his personal life, including putting assets into his mistress's account to hide them from Rosemarie.  People murder for money and love all the time, and there's no telling who he offended just enough to push them over the edge.

Desiree is looking in all the right places, but she better catch the killer fast - before they come for her next.


Desiree Turner moved home to Verbena, California after a serious on-air gaffe left her without a job.  Now she's helping run the family's funeral parlor - a place she thought she'd permanently escaped from ten years ago.  But when a murder victim is sent to the home, it becomes personal when a close family friend is accused of the crime.  Now Desiree feels she needs to solve the murder, since the police have Kyle Hanson in jail, and she knows it's just not possible.

But standing in her way is the widow, Rosemarie Brewer, who accused Kyle because of a personal vendetta against the Hansens; and the fact that the murder weapon used also belonged to them.  Desiree still isn't convinced, and no matter what it takes, she's going to find out the truth...

What can I say about this book?  It had good bones, that is true.  But I got the feeling while reading this that the author, in some small way, was using a surreptitious way to give us a politically correct agenda and promote her own views on things.  I also didn't really care for Nate's character.  He just didn't seem to click with Desiree, and she had more spark with either Luke or Rafe.  Nate just seemed boring to me and I didn't understand why she was interested in him.

Then there was the issue of the charm - we understood immediately who it was from, but I was disappointed that this story line didn't go anywhere.  If you're going to hint at something important, at least give us some kind of resolution.  I absolutely abhor cliff hangers, and I can't emphasize this too many times.  You never know if the author is going to do this in every single book after you see it once.

Then there's the funeral many 'situations' occur at funerals?  At every single funeral (sans one) there was some sort of issue with the way people behaved.  Fistfights?  Jumping into coffins?  Perhaps a fight or two once in a while, but twice in one week at the same funeral home?  What type of people live here?  Who does that?  I can't even imagine.  But the real killer is that it's one thing to read a series about a funeral home (I've read one, and the series is quite good), but it's something entirely different to read about what goes on there.  Who wants to read about funerals?  We all pretty much know what happens, we don't need to read about "packages" and everything happening at the home and the funeral.  It's depressing and brings back unhappy memories for some of us who have lost loved ones.  It would be no different than reading a book about euthanizing pets.  We know it happens, but who wants to hear about the details?  As you probably understand, if we are reading a book about a waitress, we don't need to hear about every order she places, every customer, how they're eating, what they're wearing, how she cleans up the table, etc.  This author seemed to write about every little thing that funerals entail - what packages people were buying, caskets, how they were dressed, the graveyard, etc.    

Other than that, the plot was pretty decent and the writing was good.  As a start to a new series, it was decent, and I realize that the first book in a series needs to be honed, so the author is off to a good start; but unfortunately, it just isn't my cup of tea. 

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Bad Neighbors (An Agnes and Effie Mystery #2)

Author:  Maia Chance
Genre:  Mystery

Hardcover; Digital Book
ISBN #:  9781683315414
Crooked Lane Books
336 Pages
$26.99; $10.99 Amazon
April 10, 2018


It's leaf-peeping season in Naneda, New York, and Agnes Blythe has settled into helping her eccentric Great Aunt Effie restore the Stagecoach Inn.  It seems nothing can shatter the golden idyll - or the ka-ching of cash registers - until a mechanic at Hatch Automotive is found bludgeoned to death with a wrench.

Sweeping into action, Agnes and Aunt Effie are on the scene, when a tourist-laden motor coach breaks down outside of town.  The Stagecoach Inn isn't exactly ready for guests, but Agnes and Effie agree to take in a group of seniors while they wait for repairs.  But then, Agnes finds herself pulled into the investigation when she learns her new boyfriend, gorgeous Otis Hatch, is the Naneda Police Department's prime suspect.

With bodies falling faster than the foliage, Agnes must leaf through the more viable suspects and clear Otis's name of murder.


Agnes Blythe has moved into her Aunt Effie's still-working-on Stagecoach Inn, getting ready to turn it into a B & B.  Right now it's pretty much a disaster area.  But when they receive news that a motor coach on a leaf-peeping tour has broken down, they're asked to take in several of the tourists.  Since they're not licensed, Effie agrees - as non-paying guests - and does her best to ready some rooms.  Meanwhile, she sends Agnes into town to pick up those guests at Hatch Automotive, where Agnes' boyfriend Otis works.

But when Agnes arrives, she finds the police there, and Otis being escorted into a police car.  It seems a local, Mikey, has been murdered at the shop, and since Otis's wrench was the murder weapon, he's the logical party.  So what's a woman to do?  Help Otis, of course!  So Agnes and Effie set about - along with help from Agnes's cousin Chester, who also works at the Inn, and even help from a couple of the guests - to prove Otis innocent and find the guilty party.  But will they be able to do so, especially when the police are sure he's the murderer and the townspeople aren't helping, since it seems they have their own secrets to hide...

This is a cute cozy mystery, the second in the new series by Maia Chance.  While I enjoyed the interaction between the guests and their hosts, there were a couple of things that bothered me.  Agnes didn't even try to hide the fact she was investigating - she is really, really bad at it.  She accuses everyone of being the murderer, and puts herself in situations no sane person would do.  And who pulls up floors in the middle of the night while you have guests?  It's not exactly a silent thing to do.  The noise would be heard.  It just seemed odd to me.  I get that they want - need to renovate - but surely she could have picked better times or set aside a time until the guests leave.  (And a guest who isn't paying complaining to the host as Hank did seemed rather petty).

Yes, I had complaints.  So why did I give it four stars?  Because it was funny at times, and poor Agnes was trying so hard to do the right thing, even though her heart was breaking.  I liked Chester best of all; he was who he was without trying to be something else.   He seemed to have a more natural personality without any angst.  Having not read the first in the series, I still haven't made up my mind about her father, since he pretty much ignored her unless she did something that made him happy (even a small town mayor doesn't have so much to do that he can't visit or call his only child on a regular basis - I'm one of five and my dad and I talked on the phone every single day).

While the plot was very good, there were a lot of characters to keep track of, and at times I had to keep going back to figure out who was who; but the story was interesting enough to keep me reading, and there was plenty of action.  I enjoyed the interaction between Agnes, Effie and Chester.  She's an aunt anyone would love to have.  It's a good start to a new series and I will read the next when it comes out.  Recommended.


More on Maia Chance's Books:

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Death of a Christmas Caterer (Hayley Powell Food and Cocktails Mystery #5)

Author:  Lee Hollis
Genre:  Mystery

Mass Market Paperback; Digital Book; Audiobook
ISBN #:  9780758294517
Kensington Publishing
336 Pages
$6.39; $5.99 Amazon
October 7, 2014


Office Christmas parties can sometimes mean career suicide - but they rarely lead to murder.  Hayley thought Garth Rawlings would be the perfect caterer for this year's bash, but when the gourmet sees her budget, he goes galloping.

Unfortunately his run is short-lived.  Garth is found dead on the floor of his kitchen, with his delectable creations burning in the oven.  Faced with a spread of suspects, Hayley is determined to discover who would want to take out the Christmas caterer, because - no matter what the season - justice must be served...


Hayley Powell, food and drink writer for the Island Times in Bar Harbor, Maine, has just barely begun a new relationship with the handsome vet when she hears that her old boyfriend, Lex Banfield has had an accident and is in the hospital.  So Hayley, feeling sorry for him, brings him food so he won't have to eat hospital fare.  She's still complaining about her lack of money but never even thinks of bailing to go to the other newspaper which might actually give her a living wage (didn't they have an opening after book #1?).  It's hard to feel sorry for someone who's already wallowing in their penury but won't do anything about it.

She also has been given the dubious duty of planning the office Christmas party with one days' notice.  When she gets a caterer - Garth Rawlings - he hangs up on her once he finds out what the budget is going to be, and Hayley winds up making all the food herself.  But when Garth learns people are raving about her menu, he hires her to help him for a couple of days and promises her $1500 to do so.  How can she turn it down?  But when she arrives at Garth's kitchen, there's a problem - a fire, and Garth is found dead on the floor.  County coroner Sabrina Merriwether rules it death by beating - but how did it happen when Garth was found in a locked room with no windows?

No, Hayley knows there's more to the story, and she's determined to find the truth.  What she does discover is that Garth had plenty of enemies, his marriage wasn't everything it was cracked up to be, and there are people who don't want her to know the truth, regardless if it means she'll have to be put away in a deep freeze forever...

Well, I guess I shouldn't go so far as to say I had high hopes for this book.  Hayley is Too Stupid To Live.  Her new boyfriend Aaron asks her to a romantic dinner, and Lex calls her begging her to bring him food.  So what does she do?  She agrees - in front of Aaron, KNOWING.  Just knowing.  What. A. Stupid. Woman.  Seriously, what is wrong with her?  Someone needs to show her a picture of a doormat and tape her name to it.  Then Hayley needs to photocopy it and put it in her home, at work, in her car, etc.  She should have just told Lex no, and that she'd see him tomorrow.  What a bleeding heart she is.

She also learns that her ex-husband is going to Bermuda instead of buying his kids Christmas gifts, or paying for half of their tickets to visit him.  Why not tell the kids what their dad is doing?  I would.  She owes him nothing, and should probably rethink her custody agreement.  What good is a father who puts his new girlfriend ahead of his children?  No, thank you.  She learns this at the beginning of the book, but then the subject is...dropped.  Throughout the rest of the book...

Anyway, now she's sort of on the outs with Aaron, and things just keep going from bad to worse.  At the office Christmas party, her coworker Bruce corners her and then after she barely escapes he tries to deny it the next day until Sal (her boss) lets Bruce know he saw everything.  So Hayley just wants to forget it, because you know, sexual assault by a drunk coworker is no big deal, right?  Even when it's brought up time and again, we should just go with it and say, 'Hey, the guy was just drunk' and shrug our shoulders about the whole situation.

So her relationship problems notwithstanding, she starts to investigate another murder.  Let's just say Hayley isn't known for being subtle.  And of course, it gets her in trouble and in real danger a couple of times.  But then she does something so totally stupid that I realizes this must be the dumbest woman on the face of the earth.  Here it is - and it's an ending spoiler, so if you don't want to know, don't read it:

What I have decided is that the characters in this book aren't the brightest bulbs on the Christmas tree.  Sabrina is a coroner but repeatedly makes mistakes - big ones.  Mistakes no coroner would miss.  Hayley is getting close to being a moron.  Her intelligence seems to go down in each succeeding book, which is pretty hard to do.  And of course, she still has no problem drinking and driving.  What people need to realize is that when you have even one drink and get behind the wheel of a car, you're not only taking your own life in your hands, you're also taking everyone else's who happens to be out on the road that night.  And it's winter, icy and cold.  Not a good idea.

I really do hope that any more books in this series will have Hayley wising up to life and getting a new job and stop allowing people to walk all over her.  A light, fluffy read.


More on Lee Hollis's Books:

Monday, March 12, 2018

Coffin, Scarcely Used (A Flaxborough Mystery Book 1)

Author:  Colin Watson
Genre:  Mystery

Hardcover; Paperback; Digital Book
ISBN #:   9780754086024; 9781601870162
Farrago Publishing
210 Pages
$36.96; $14.95; $.99 Amazon
February 22, 2018


In the respectable seaside town of Flaxborough, the equally respectable councillor Harold Carobleat is laid to rest.  Cause of death:  pneumonia.

But he is scarcely cold in his coffin before Detective Inspector Purbright, affable and annoyingly polite, must turn out again to examine the death of Carobleat's neighour, Marcus Gwill, former proprietor of the local rag, the Citizen.  This time it looks like foul play, unless a surfeit of marshmallows had lead the late and rather unlamented Mr. Gwill to commit suicide by electrocution.  ('Power without responsibility', murmurs Purbright.)

How were the dead men connected, both to each other and to a small but select band of other town worthies?  Purbright becomes intrigued by a stream of advertisements Gwill was putting in the Citizen, for some very oddly named antique items...


When one man is killed in a village it isn't really news unless a few months later another turns up dead - this time a suicide; and connected to the other.  Now, it seems at first all cut and dried, but to Inspector Purbright, a highly intelligent policeman, he knows that it's foul play.  But proving it is going to be another matter.

Not to mention that the reason for both deaths escape him at the time; he doesn't seem to have any headway by questioning the dead man's companions; nor does he get anywhere questioning his housekeeper.  But then, something occurs to him: it is only a matter of a book at the home of the deceased Mr. Gwill, and a list of repetitive advertisements that bring his attention.  And our intrepid inspector is on his way to solving a very intricate and detailed operation of the highly delicate sort that could just change everything...

What a delightful surprise this book was.  I have never read anything by Mr. Watson before, but I can tell you that I am going to read the rest in this series.  As far as British police procedurals go, this is one of the best.  I can almost see it come to life, with the late Alistair Sim playing Inspector Purbright; a man who knows in his gut what is going on around him, and uses his wits to discover the truth of the matter.

What seems at first as cut and dried isn't; and by use of several policemen Purbright manages to get all the pieces of the jigsaw and put them together.  And what a puzzle he has fashioned!  This is an older book, but masterfully written, and is right up there with the best of them. Murder, blackmail, and scandalous immorality are woven within indeed make for a remarkable mystery that is very well written.

When all is said and done and the ending comes, we realize how simply enjoyable it was to read.  I look forward to the next book by this late author.  Highly recommended.


More on Colin Watson's Books:

Farewell, My Cuckoo (A Birds of a Feather Mystery #4)

Author:  Marty Wingate Genre:  Mystery Digital Book Alibi Publishing $4.99 Amazon April 10, 2018 ✮✮✮✮✮ Wedding bells are ringi...