Wednesday, July 18, 2018

'Twas the Knife Before Christmas (A Christmas Tree Farm Mystery #2)

Author:  Jacqueline Frost
Genre:  Mystery

Hardcover; Digital Book
ISBN #:  9781683318033
Crooked Lane Books
$26.99; $12.99 Amazon
November 13, 2018

✮✮✮✮✮


When a body turns up in a larger-than-life candy bowl filled with peppermints on the town square, Holly White is horrified to learn her best friend Caroline is the main suspect.  Everyone in town, including Mistletoe, Maine's sheriff, saw Caroline fighting with the victim on the night of his death.  Worse, a custom kitchen knife, engraved with Caroline's initials was found with him.

Now, just ten days before Christmas, Holly's up to her jingle bells in holiday shenanigans and in desperate need of a miracle.  Juggling extra shifts at her family's Christmas tree farm and making enough gingerbread jewelry to satisfy the crowd is already more than she can handle - and now she has to find time to clear her best friend of murder.  Add in her budding relationship with the sheriff, and personal stalker dressed as Santa Claus, and Holly's ready to fly south until springtime.

But her Sherpa-lined mittens come off when Caroline is taken into custody.  Can Holly wrap up the case in time for Christmas...even after she gains the true killer's attention?

✽✽✽✽✽✽✽✽

Welcome to Mistletoe, Maine, a town where it's always in holiday season...and fortuitously, it actually is close to Christmas and everyone is gearing up for the holiday.  Holly White's family owns the Reindeer Games Christmas tree farm, where guests are always welcome and there is plenty to keep everyone busy, but right now Holly is taking a break from the whirlwind, and visiting her friend Caroline West at the cupcake shop she owns and listening while she tells Holly of last night's fiasco.  Caroline is the daughter of the local mayor, and is expected to attend events in the company of young men her father knows.  Unfortunately, this one - Derek Waggoner, son of a judge - is not the gentleman he should be, and there is a confrontation between the two.

When Caroline, Holly and their friend Cookie go to the town square a little later to see the unveiling of the giant candy bowl full of mints they're in for a big surprise, and it's not just the red and white mints, but the red of blood....when the bowl is unveiled they see Derek, definitely dead, who's been stuffed inside.

When one of Caroline's kitchen knives is found along with the body, evidence is pointing toward her as the killer.  But Holly knows Caroline wouldn't have killed anyone, and even though Sheriff Evan Gray, Holly's maybe-boyfriend, is determined to follow the evidence, Holly doesn't have to do so, and decides to play a dangerous game of following clues to the killer instead.

Insert the fact that she still has jewelry orders to fill for Christmas, her mother's kitchen contractor is destroying things instead of building them, and her parents' plans for erecting an inn that Holly will be managing is giving her headaches because she's the one having to choose designs for the interior of it, not to mention that her relationship with Evan has pretty much come to a standstill.

Even so, Holly is determined to find out who's framing Caroline for a murder, and it could very well be the worst decision she's ever made; especially when it looks like the killer might actually be looking for another victim...

I read the first in this series and I liked it so well I decided to give the second one a go.  I have to say I'm glad I did, because this does not disappoint.  While some may think that it starts out a bit slow, I believe that it's mainly to give a little background for those who haven't read the first, and the fact that the groundwork needs to be laid for what is to follow.

And what follows is indeed enjoyable.  We are once again in the magical town of Mistletoe, and you will, by reading the book, eventually see just how magical this town is, for both Holly and her family.

Holly is determined to keep looking for a killer - surreptitiously, of course, and under Sheriff Gray's radar, she hopes - by questioning those most likely to have wanted Derek dead.  But she doesn't count on the fact that Derek's girlfriend Samantha has a wicked temper that flares up at any time which leads her to start throwing things - usually at Holly, it seems; nor that there was more than one woman who disliked the man enough to want him permanently gone.

Her investigating leads her to plenty of Derek's business ventures, which were more about his ego rather than anything he might have invested; and even as the evidence piles up against Caroline she's still convinced of her innocence, and still determined to find the real person responsible, even after she realizes there's a deranged Santa following her and leaving mints just like the ones in the bowl nearby - something she's sure Evan isn't taking seriously.

But Evan has problems of his own that he's not talking about, and her friend Ray Griggs is having a bit of a meltdown at the fact that his widowed mother is dating again and Holly finds him in most unusual places as he's following his mom 'to keep her safe'.

All of this adds up to a delicious mystery that keeps one interested and wanting to discover a killer along with our protagonist.  While I will state that I read a lot of mysteries, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that I hadn't a clue about the killer right up until the point that Holly did, and that was indeed the best surprise of all.

Ms. Frost is a new addition to the cozy mystery genre, and one to keep an eye on, especially if her books keep one as entertained as this.  She has managed to make the second book in her series even more fun to read than the first, and that one was a pleasure in itself.  For those who have not as yet read The Twelve Slays of Christmas, I urge you to do so; you will not be disappointed.  I love mysteries, and plan on re-reading them both come the holiday season.

When all is said and done, there were plenty of twists and turns throughout the book, and even a couple of harrowing scenes for Holly.  The tale was woven like a tapestry, with each thread coming together nicely at the end, and leaving just enough of a hint of what is to come to make us eager for the next - which I hope is soon.  Highly recommended.

https://www.amazon.com/Twas-Knife-Before-Christmas-Mystery/dp/168331803X/

Goodreads:  https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/2461665712

More on Jacqueline Frost's Books:  https://www.fantasticfiction.com/f/jacqueline-frost/ 

Friday, July 13, 2018

Paws for Murder (A Pet Boutique Mystery #1)

Author:  Annie Knox
Genre:  Mystery

Mass Market Paperback; Digital Book
ISBN #:  9780451239501
Berkley Publishing
320 Pages
$7.99l; $2.99 Amazon
January 4, 2014

✮✮


Izzy's own beloved pets are dressed to the nines for the grand opening of Trendy Tails.  Feisty feline Jinx is large and in charge, and happy mutt Packer is lapping up the attention.  Izzy and her best friend, Rena, have their hands full meeting Merryville's menagerie and serving tasty pupcakes and kitty canapés from their "barkery."  The last thing they need is Sherry Harper, the town's local activist, scaring off customers and getting tongues wagging by picketing the event.

The two manage to stop Sherry's protest in its tracks, but the trouble for Trendy Tails is just beginning.  Sherry is found murdered in the back of the shop, and Rena is immediately named as the lead suspect.  Now Izzy and her furry friends have a new pet project - collaring a killer.

✽✽✽✽✽✽✽✽

When Izzy McHale's life falls apart because her doctor boyfriend decides to hightail it out of town with another woman, she decides to open a pet clothing store and 'barkery' with her friend Rena Hamilton, and she thinks everything is going to be fine.  But she doesn't count on Sherry Harper, trust fund baby and local activist, who thinks it's cruel to dress up pets, picketing on opening night.

When there is a set-to outside her store during the opening, she finds Sherry and her ex-boyfriend Nick in the middle of a heated argument.  After Rena successfully ends the fiasco, the party continues.  Later in the night when Izzy is taking out the trash she sees something near the dumpster...which turns out to be Sherry, quite dead indeed.

When Rena is suspected of the crime, Izzy realizes her best friend couldn't possibly be guilty and since she thinks the police aren't even looking for anyone else she opts to find the killer herself rather than see her friend jailed for something she didn't do...

Well, this book started out interesting enough with a conversation between Sherry and Izzy.  But the more I read, the more it seemed rather silly.  A store dedicated to dressing up your dogs and cats?  Honestly, I own cats (and have owned dogs) and I can't imagine trying to put clothing of any kind on my cats.  Just trying would have me paying for it for months, if you know what I mean.

And to tell the truth, I've never really liked the idea of people clothing their dogs.  They're pets, for goodness' sake, not people.  While you think they may love being dressed up, they're dogs.  They only know they're getting attention, and are probably wondering what you're doing to them.  It's rather silly to see a dog in a tutu and makes me wonder about the person who did it - but enough about that...

Anyway, it is the first in a series and that always makes me want to give a book a chance, because you never know what you might find.  Sadly, it wasn't much.  Why did she decide to design for pets?  Especially in a small town?  She trained to be a clothing designer, and she could just as well have made clothing for people, even in said small town.  If the designs were nice enough, she could have started small and worked her way into a high-end boutique.  This would have made the series much more interesting.

Anyone who's read any of my reviews knows I'm a stickler for details, so to that end, this is where the book lost me:  early on in the book we are told (as I've mentioned) that Sherry is a trust fund baby.  Then later on - and this isn't much of a spoiler since it also occurs fairly early in the book - Rena tells Izzy how during a protest in Minneapolis Sherry hid a can of spray paint (she had used to deface a building) in Rena's backpack to hide it.  Rena then goes on to say that she got arrested for it and didn't have bail money, so spent three weeks in jail and had to sell plasma to pay for a bus ticket home.  (Not to mention that's a lot of plasma; I don't think they pay that much for it).  Hmm...Sherry was the reason she went to jail in the first place, and knew it.  Again - Trust Fund Baby.  So why didn't she pony up the bail money for Rena?  Why didn't she pay for the ticket home?  Rena just took the rap and didn't even do anything about it?  Really?  We’re supposed to buy this?  Rena is either the stupidest person in the world or the author thinks her audience is if they don't even question this.

Anyone knows that the incident in Minneapolis wouldn't have come to light as it was previous and had no bearing on the case.  She killed her because of three weeks in jail years ago?  Not plausible; so why it was even considered is beyond me.

Unfortunately, once a book loses me it's very hard to take anything else in it seriously, so I won't be reading any more of this series.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Dartmoor Burial (A Claire Camden Mystery #1)

Author:  Audrey Peterson
Genre:  Mystery

Paperback
ISBN #:  9780671729707
Pocket Books
256 Pages
Various Prices
October 1, 1992

✮✮✮



On sabbatical from her pressured university life in California, Claire Camden is looking forward to time alone in her second home in London.  Her spirits are up after her divorce two years before, and at last she can get to work on her book about M. L. Talbot, one of Victorian England's most lively and daring female novelists.

But on her first visit to the country home of her ex-mother-in-law, Claire gets caught up in one young woman's tragic story.  Darla Brown's pregnant body has been found on the moor, and all of Morbridge is churning with talk of the ghastly murder - gossip about Darla's flirtations and her rumored engagement to an unknown man.  The old-world opinions of the neighbors - their insights into the legends of the Dartmoor region, small-town manners and scandals - are as intriguing as any fiction Claire has studied.

With Detective Superintendent Neil Padgett at her side and the wealth of all English literature before her, Claire is determined to take her own novel approach to the disturbing case...a close reading that will draw her to shocking conclusions...and into the passionate, angry mind of Darla's murderer.

✽✽✽✽✽✽✽✽

When Claire Camden takes a leave of absence from her job in California, her main goal is to visit with her daughter Sally.  But while first visiting her ex-mother-in-law, Bea, she learns of a young woman who was recently found dead among the moor.  The case soon becomes of interest to her, along with a growing interest in the detective superintendent assigned to it, Neil Padgett.

While Claire learns that a neighbor of Bea's is ailing and longing for her granddaughter, she finds that the young woman, Harriet, may have a tie to Darla - while the neighbor insists they barely knew each other, Claire learns that Harriet and Darla were indeed friends...and something more lies between them.

But while trying to stay away from the murder she is yet drawn into it, and her study of the Victorian author M. L. Talbot may also have a peculiar clue to the case that Claire very nearly misses...

I read this book, as the first in a series of three because it sounded interesting.  I did find it enjoyable, and liked most of the characters in it.  In fact, I would have liked to have seen this series continue, but as it isn't, I will have to content myself on the three that exist.

It was pleasant enough and there were a couple of subplots that actually wove themselves into the story nicely and brought it to a satisfying conclusion.  The scenarios are all believable, and while all of the characters aren't likable, they aren't meant to be.  There was enough given on Claire's background that the reader doesn't feel as if they've walked into the middle of a conversation, and I hope in the next two books to see that Claire's and Neil's relationship flourishes.  A very nice read indeed of a mystery.

https://www.amazon.com/Dartmoor-Burial-Claire-Camden-Mystery/dp/0671729705?

Goodreads:  https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/2453618716

More on Audrey Peterson's Books:  https://www.fantasticfiction.com/p/audrey-peterson/

A Batter of Life and Death (A Bakeshop Mystery)

Author:  Ellie Alexander
Genre:  Mystery

Mass Market Paperback; Digital Book
ISBN #:  9781250054241
St. Martin's Paperbacks
304 Pages
$7.19; $8.99 Amazon
June 30, 2015

✮✮


It's autumn in Ashland, Oregon - 'tis the season for a spiced hot apple cider with a serving (or two) of Torte's famous peach cobbler.  It's also the perfect time for Jules Capshaw to promote her family's beloved bakeship by competing in the Pastry Channel's reality show, Take the Cake.  The prize is $25,000.  But as Jules quickly learns, some people would kill for that kind of dough.  Literally.

Then, just as Jules dusts off her Bavarian Chocolate Cake recipe and cinches up her apron, the corpse of a fellow contestant is discovered - death by buttercream.  What began as a fun, tasteful televised adventure has morphed into something of a true-crime detective show for Jules and everybody else on set.  Who could have killed Chef Marco, and why?  Can Jules sift out the killer before someone else gets burned?

✽✽✽✽✽✽✽✽

Jules Capshaw left her cruise ship job to go home and work with her mother at the family pastry shop, Torte.  She's also separated from her husband, who kept a secret from her during their marriage that she thought she'd never be able to forgive, which is the main reason she returned home.

When a reality film crew comes to town, they're going to film their cooking show in Ashland, but unfortunately, one of the celebrity chefs is murdered and she's pretty much railroaded to take his place.  While she's not happy about the situation, she has another train of thought and that is the fact that Torte will get some publicity from the show, so she agrees.

But it's not long after that her shop is vandalized, and it's obvious the person who killed Chef Marco might not be done with the job.  Can Jules discover the killer - even as Thomas has warned her away from the crime - before someone else is killed, maybe even her...

Well, I should have known there would be problems with this book when I read that while the chefs were staying in a hotel, the film crew would be staying in the theater.  Really?  Are the crew sleeping on cots on the stage?  Or is there an accompanying inn with the same name attached?  Nothing is mentioned aside from this fact.

Next, all the chefs are cooking at various kitchens around town instead of a central one, which makes no sense at all.  With this arrangement, no one is watching them bake; therefore, there are no witnesses as to whether or not they're using the ingredients they said they were, or if they baked their own products or not.  Television cooking shows have the chefs actually cook while they're filming, so the audience can watch the action, as it were; not bring in a dish and say they made it.  Unbelievable.

Then, when Jules finds Chef Marco's body, she says as how she just witnessed a murder.  Um, no.  She found a dead body, she definitely did not witness a murder.  These are two very different things (and I don't know why the editor wouldn't catch this gaffe).  If she'd witnessed the murder, chances are the book would be over very quickly since she would have seen the killer.

The producer of the show brings Richard Lord in as one of the chefs...except Richard isn't a chef, and he doesn't even make his own food.  So why?  This alone doesn't make any sense.  Let's just say the idiotic viewers of this show (because they'd have to be to believe this nonsense) would Google the man and discover he wasn't a chef.  Wouldn't that hurt the credibility - and viewership - of the production?  Any producer who would allow him onto the show should be fired.  Not to mention that cooking shows are as much about the chefs as they are the food - people watch to see tempers flare, tension rise, etc., and if they're all cooking off stage, none of that would occur.  You're otherwise basically watching people pick up a prize for 'best of,' and who really cares?

Jules also won't tell the other female chefs to clean up after themselves - they're obviously pigs (but Jules and her crew are clean as a whistle) yet keeps complaining and saying she'll tell Phillip about it.  Again, um, no.  She owns Torte, she needs to tell them they can't cook there anymore if they aren't going to clean up after themselves.  If they don't want to do it, kick them out. 

At the last, I should have known better when the book began with, 'They say that time heals a broken heart.'  Through the entire book she's wondering about her feelings for Thomas, and anyone can see he has feelings for her, yet from what I gather about later books in the series, she's also still wondering about her feelings for Carlos.  Carlos just needs to go.  He wasn't that interesting to begin with, and Jules obviously wants to stay at Torte.  What kind of marriage would that be?  For someone who's supposed to be savvy and intelligent, she's screwed up in the romance department.

Sooo...she waffles about Thomas through the entire book, and then at the last few pages they talk and guess what?  All of the readers are thinking maybe she'll start seeing him again.  Once more, um, no.  The author obviously just wanted to keep the 'will she or won't she' factor going throughout the book with a hint of romance.  There never was going to be one!  They just want to 'be friends.'  It was a ruse, people.  An excuse to keep you reading the book.  If she starts all over again with Carlos - and from all appearances it may very well be true - I am so done with this series. 

It's not just that I hate wishy-washy women; I also hate the fact that readers are 'teased' with scenarios that never come to pass; and all of the things I've stated above that don't make sense make me wonder if future books also have details that are nonsense.  For this I couldn't give it above two stars.

https://www.amazon.com/Batter-Life-Death-Bakeshop-Mystery/dp/1250054249/

Friday, July 6, 2018

Murder and Marinara (An Italian Kitchen Mystery)

Author:  Rosie Genova
Genre:  Mystery

Mass Market Paperback; Digital Book
ISBN #:  9780451415141
Berkley Obsidian
336 Pages
$7.99; $5.99 Amazon
October 1, 2013

✮✮


When Victoria takes a break from penning her popular mystery series and moves back to the Jersey shore, she imagines sun, sand, and scents of fresh basil and simmering marinara sauce at the family restaruant, the Casa Lido.  But her nonna's recipes aren't the only things getting stirred up in this Italian kitchen.

Their small town is up in arms over plans to film a new reality TV show, and when Victoria serves the show's pushy producer his last meal, the Casa Lido staff finds itself embroiled in a murder investigation.  Victoria wants to find the real killer, but there are as many suspects as tomatoes in her nonna's garden.  Now she'll have to heat up her sleuthing skills quickly...before someone else gets a plateful of murder.

✽✽✽✽✽✽✽✽

Victoria Rienzi writes mysteries under the name of Vick Reed.  When it's determined that she needs a temporary break from writing her series, she returns home to her roots to write about her family.  But when she arrives she doesn't expect to see the man who sent her running away in the first place...working in her family's restaurant as a sous chef.

Once she realizes she'll have to work with him she decides to make the best of it and tells him she refuses to discuss their past together.  But that's not all: she learns from her family that a smarmy TV producer is going to film a reality TV show in their little town, and they've organized a protest against it.

But things take a turn when Gio Parisi - the person running the show - turns up at the restaurant and Victoria realizes she needs to serve him and get him out before her family returns and finds him there.  But what she also doesn't expect is that when she heads out to the kitchen garden not too long after, she finds Gio dead nearby...

Now the restaurant is losing customers because everyone thinks he developed food poisoning from their food.  And Vick also discovers that her nonna wants her to put her deductive skills to use to find the killer before they have to close their doors for good...

I know this series didn't last too long, but it sounded cute anyway, so I prevailed...at least until I discovered we're up to our ears again in a love triangle.  When, oh, when will authors realize a love triangle is not all that interesting to read about?  Personally, I detest them.  Think of it this way:  What if the situation were reversed and it were one man stringing along two women?  You'd think him a dog and the women trying to snag him were desperate.  So why is this any different?  It's not much better, waffling between two men, really.  Is there a lack of women in this town (or any of the others we read about)?  Most people don't date two people at the same time (at least with the other person's knowledge) waiting for them to make a decision on which man she'll choose.  Geez, enough with the love triangles already.  If you're going to throw in a romance, make it a romance, not another silly woman who hasn't got the brains to decide which man she wants in her life.

Anyway, although others might find the idea interesting, it's gotten to the point with me that if I even get a whiff of a love triangle I stop reading the book and vow never to pick up any more in the series; and if the author writes a different series, I usually look for it at the bookstore and if that one goes in the same direction, I never read another by the author.  I want to be entertained, not read a soap opera.

Besides that little tidbit of annoyance, the characters are all stereotypical - Italian family has a decades-old restaurant, a crusty nonna, an over-the-top mother who wants grandchildren (Thank God for parents who understand their children aren't baby-making machines who marry and then are expected to pop them out on a regular basis just to keep their mother happy).  Babies come in their own time and at the right time, and mothers like this are the reason people move as far away from them as possible; the son is a police officer, and of course, the ex-boyfriend is dark and brooding.

While the ending tied everything up together nicely, just as it's supposed to, it also did the typical will-she-or-won't-she with the "boyfriends" whom, of course, she managed to alienate in this book in the usual way but will probably have them chomping at the bit for her in the next.  It doesn't really matter, because I won't be there to read it.

Death in Four Courses (A Key West Food Critic Mystery #2)

Author:  Lucy Burdette
Genre:  Mystery

Mass Market Paperback; Digital Book
ISBN #:  9780451237835
Berkley Publishing
320 Pages

✮✮



The annual Key West Loves Literature seminar is drawing the biggest names in food writing from all over the country, and Hayley Snow is there to catch a few fresh morsels of insider gossip.  Superstar restaurant critic Jonah Barrows has already ruffled a few foodie feathers with his recent tell-all memoir, and as keynote speaker, he promises more of the same jaw-dropping honesty.

But when Hayley discovers Jonah's body in a nearby dipping pool, the cocktail hour buzz takes a sour turn, and Hayley finds herself at the center of attention -- especially with the police.  Now it's up to her to catch the killer before she comes to her own bitter finish.

✽✽✽✽✽✽✽✽

Hayley Snow is a food writer for the magazine Key Zest.  Her mother arrives in Key West, Florida and goes with her to the Key West Loves Literature seminar.  Hayley is hoping to meet Jonah Barrows, a well-known food writer, but things don't exactly turn out the way she plans.  She finds Jonah - but unfortunately it's in a fountain and he's dead.

When the police arrive they're surprised to find Hayley once again involved in a murder.  But she's not going to be put into the hot seat again and is determined to find out who murdered the mouthy critic before she's accused of the crime...

Okay, I was hoping the second in this series would be better than the first.  Why?  Because - and I recap here a bit - in the first book Hayley was the main suspect in the murder of a woman she only met twice!  Again, why?  Because her ex-boyfriend told the police she must have done it.  Never mind that said ex asked her to move in with him when he'd never asked anyone before; never mind that she had no reason to kill the woman aside from the fact that Hayley caught them in bed together; never mind that Hayley had no history of violence in her past; well, you get the idea...

Anyway...Hayley, of course, finds Jonah and asks for help getting him out of the pool.  When the police arrive they begin questioning her - no, let me amend that: they begin accusing her of the murder.  They ask very pointed questions about how well she knew the victim, etc. - pretty much treating her like she's a suspect in the murder.  Basically it's the same book as the first one just with different names.

Also, since she's supposed to be dating the homicide detective, I was a little taken aback when he said he heard about the murder and wasn't surprised she was involved.  Say what?  He's dating her and he thinks she's capable of murder?  What is it with the men of Key West?  First her ex-boyfriend and now her current one?  Neither one believes her innocent even though evidence (such as it is) is flimsy at best?  Shouldn't they automatically be on her side?  Not in this series, I guess.

Why on earth should I bother with this series?  There are enough series out there where I'm not going to do so.  Sorry, but this one just isn't a winner with me when the second book is too close to the first book to be almost a rehash.

https://www.amazon.com/Death-Four-Courses-Critic-Mystery/dp/0451237838/

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

An Appetite for Murder (A Key West Food Critic Mystery #1)

Author:  Lucy Burdette
Genre:  Mystery

Mass Market Paperback; Digital Book
ISBN #:  9780451235510
Berkley Publishing
320 Pages
$7.99; $2.99 Amazon
January 3, 2012

✮✮


Hayley Snow is a woman of many passions.  She's followed her soul mater to funky, foodie Key West, but when their romance loses its sizzle, she's determined to find a new life in this island paradise.  She's always been a foodie, so when she applies to be a food critic for Key Zest, the new Key West style magazine, it seems like a perfect pairing.  Then Hayley discovers her potential new boss is Kristen Faulkner - the woman who stole her boyfriend.

Hayley can't see how things can get worse now that she's loveless, possibly working for her romantic rival, and living on her friend's boat - until Kristen is murdered and the police pull Hayley in as a suspect.  Unfortunately, Hayley's got more motive than Key Lime pie has meringue.  To clear her name she'll have to find the real killer fast or the only restaurant she'll be reviewing is the prison café.

✽✽✽✽✽✽✽✽

Hayley Snow made the mistake of following a man she barely knew, Chad Lutz - yet thought she was in love with - to Key West, Florida.  Weeks after moving in, she caught him in bed with Kristin Faulker and Chad promptly threw her things out on the street.  Now she's living in a tiny room on a houseboat with her friend Connie, without a job and working part time for Connie in return for free rent.

What she really wants to do is get the job as food critic for a magazine called Key Zest, but the downside is Hayley discovered that she'd be working for Kristin.  She's out one evening with her friend Eric when she sees Chad and Kristin dining at the same restaurant and decides to ask her about the job.  It's not long after that confrontation when police arrive at the boat and take her down to the station for questioning.

It seems Kristin is dead - murdered - and they want to know just how well Hayley knew her and what she knows about the crime.  Hayley tries to convince them she'd only seen Kristin twice in her life, but whether they believe her or not is yet to be seen.  Then she discovers that it was probably Chad who told the police she murdered Kristin, and now it's all she can do to stay out of jail and try and find the killer, since it's obvious to everyone that they're trying to pin it on her...

This seemed like it might be a nice book to read since it's about a wannabe food critic who's accused of murder.  But there were several things wrong with it, and I just couldn't get past them:

First, I don't understand why the police kept insisting she must have killed Kristin.  Yes, I get that she lived with Chad, and I get that Kristin broke up the relationship.  But a few conversations with Chad and he'd have to 'fess up where he met Hayley, how he asked her to move to Key West, and how he broke up with her.  He'd also have to tell them the truth about how long Hayley knew Kristin and that Kristin had made no statements about Hayley stalking her.  Once they discovered that she was telling the truth, then they'd have to look elsewhere.

After all, there are many women who find out their boyfriends have cheated on them and they don't murder the new girlfriend, especially if the old one doesn't have a history of violence - and all they'd have to do is check to see that Hayley had no history of violence.  Look elsewhere, incompetent officers!

Then they were surprised that the knife used in the murder had her prints on it...a knife that she bought, and had when she lived with Chad.  That's not enough reason to convict her of the crime.  They'd need more evidence than an item that had her prints on it if she lived there.  Especially - and I won't name the method of murder here - since the knife wasn't the method of murder since the victim wasn't stabbed.

Also, since the secretary said that Kristin didn't live with Chad, why weren't the police investigating who wanted to kill him?  I assume they spoke with his secretary, right?  And even if Chad didn't give them that information, she would have.  The police were determined that Hayley was guilty, and never even questioned anyone else.  What police department does that unless they have concrete evidence - which they didn't.

I also didn't understand (and this is a spoiler) why Chad never got any comeuppance for being such a jerk.  He treated Hayley like garbage - even though he recently cared enough about her to move her in with him; he believed her capable of murder, but again, moved her in with him.  He also knew she had a cat before she moved to Key West, so he had no reason to act like a jerk over that; he didn't even lose clients over his behavior; it never became known.  I also didn't get why he thought she was guilty when she never exhibited that type of behavior - ever.

Then I also wondered where she was getting the cash to afford the Tarot readings, buy all her meals, buy food for her friends, etc., since she didn't have a job; Hayley was spending money like water.  Were her parents supporting her?  Are they rich?  And since her friend Eric is a psychiatrist, I imagine he knows other professional people, but didn't help Hayley by putting feelers out to see if anyone needed help?  I really didn't like Connie at all; she didn't act like a true friend would instead spending all her time with her boyfriend...sort of like a teenager would do.

Plus I really didn't care for what happened to Evinrude (no, the cat doesn't get killed) but he did disappear, and I was wondering where he had gone and if he had been stolen or injured, so that tempered my enjoyment quite a bit since I kept waiting for him to show up.  Animal lovers don't appreciate when there's an intimation that a cat's been injured or stolen and we don't get to find them right away.  It really tempers enjoyment of the book.

But what got me big time was the fact that the detective treats her like a criminal throughout the book and there's no indication at all that there's even a spark between him and Hayley and then at the end of the book he asks her for a date?  And she just forgives him right away?  Really?  He wasn't even trying to be nice or give her the benefit of the doubt.  I'd tell him to take a hike, since he also believed she was guilty.  Maybe if he'd said something like, "I don't think you're guilty, Hayley, but the evidence shows...and unless we find something to the contrary we have to go where the evidence takes us..." but he didn't.  Not even once.

Unfortunately, with all these problems it was difficult to really like the book.  Hayley herself even made it hard, since she acted more like a teenager throughout instead of a grown woman.  She spent a lot of time wallowing in self-pity instead of trying to get her life together.

When the killer was revealed at the end it really wasn't that hard to figure out since there weren't a lot of choices throughout the book who it could have been; but I honestly didn't blame them one bit and felt rather sorry for them; there's no reason for anyone to be put in that exact same situation, and it showed how some people are just taking up space instead of trying to be fair.  I will read the next in the series in the hopes that it will improve.

'Twas the Knife Before Christmas (A Christmas Tree Farm Mystery #2)

Author:  Jacqueline Frost Genre:  Mystery Hardcover; Digital Book ISBN #:  9781683318033 Crooked Lane Books $26.99; $12.99 Amazon Nov...