Friday, September 23, 2016

Lethal Lifestyles (A Headlines in High Heels Mystery #6)

Author:  LynDee Walker
Genre:  Mystery

Hardcover; Paperback; Ebook
ISBN #:  9781635110685; 9781635110654
Henery Press
262 Pages
$31.95; $15.95; $6.99 Amazon
September 27, 2016

Five Stars


Wedding bells are ringing at the Richmond Telegraph, and maid of honor Nichelle Clarke is determined to give her friends the perfect fairytale beginning to their happily ever after.  So when a corpse crashes rehearsal weekend, Nichelle ditches her wedding coordinator shoes for her crime reporter ones, and a little poking around turns up a big problem:  the victim and the groom have a history, and it's not a pretty one.  Evidence against groom Grant Parker piles up, leaving Nichelle wishing a hostile bridesmaid was still her biggest worry as she tries to fend off Richmond's favorite TV reporter - and her own scheming publisher.  At odds with the cops, her beloved editor, and the ticking clock, Nichelle races to uncover the truth and save the day before this perfect wedding turns into a funeral.

********

Nichelle Clarke is a Reporter Extraordinaire for the Richmond Telegraph; but right now she has her hands full planning the wedding of her friends and co-workers, Melanie and (Grant) Parker.  She's turned into a Wedding Planner Extraordinaire, determined to give them a memorable fairy tale wedding of all weddings.  The venue is lovely, a vineyard setting courtesy of the owner, Dale Sammons, who is a fan of Parker's, once a state baseball star before an injury cut his career short.

They are at the winery for a rehearsal, and when Nichelle steps away from the festivities for a moment, she overhears a conversation with disturbing news:  A body has been found in a wine barrel - and that doesn't bode well for anyone.  She volunteers to convince the party to temporarily vacate the premises (they are all staying in cabins onsite for a few days) and have dinner somewhere else so that the concerned vineyard employees can call the police and hopefully get the matter resolved before they return.  After all, it doesn't have anything to do with any of them, right?

Wrong - when the dead man is none other than Mitch Burke, a longtime rival of Parker's and someone who also hated him intensely - to the point of sending threatening emails - and it puts Parker right in the middle of the investigation as a possible suspect.

Since it soon becomes apparent that all clues lead back to Parker, Nichelle is determined to prove him innocent, even if no one but herself and Melanie thinks he is.  But it's going to be trickier than she thought.  When she starts digging, she finds out that Burke was into some illegal goings-on, and other people are involved as well, including some who want to see Parker charged with murder.  Even the love of her life, Joey D'Amore, who has shady connections himself, is warning her away, but Nichelle is willing to risk everything - including her job and her life - to catch a killer...

This, my friends, is the best book in the series to date.  While it begins harmless enough with the wedding of two of her best friends, it soon evolves into something much darker and convoluted in no time at all.  There is no dearth of suspects, even when it becomes obvious that Parker may have had the best motive of anyone - wanting to protect Melanie.  Still refusing to believe him capable of murder, she uses her journalist's nose and gut feelings to ferret out information that proves it is more than just revenge at the core of Burke's death.

To add to it all, she discovers that something is afoot at the vineyard that may or may not be connected to Burke's death, but is just as sinister in every sense of the word; leaving her feeling overwhelmed and on the verge of a nervous breakdown in more ways than one.  But with all else that is going on, Nichelle's personal life is taking a turn as well.  A misunderstanding leads to a change in her relationship with Joey, one that changes both their lives forever.

I can't describe how much I enjoy this series.  Ms. Walker has a way of not only bringing characters to life on the page, she actually gives them life on the page; you feel a part of everything that is occurring; and this is a very good thing.  They are luminous and fully dimensional; vivid and convincing.  It is a joy to read each book and watch their personalities evolve even as we try, along with Nichelle, to find a killer in their midst.

When the ending comes and all the secrets are revealed, it is both warped yet still satisfying; what at first appears to be merely twisted winds up being misbegotten in the extreme.  It is a delightfully twisted plot that gives us plenty of red herrings without allowing us to discover the killer early on, a true standard of a successful tale.  Kudos to Ms. Walker, and I look forward to the next book in the series.  Highly recommended.



More on LynDee Walker's books:  https://www.fantasticfiction.com/w/lyndee-walker/

Friday, September 16, 2016

Death Among the Doilies (Cora Crafts Mystery #1)

Author:  Mollie Cox Bryan
Genre:  Mystery

Paperback; Ebook
ISBN #:  9781496704641
Kensington Publishing
320 Pages
$7.99; $5.99 Amazon
August 30, 2016

Three Stars


For thirty-something blogger Cora Chevalier, small-town Indigo Gap, North Carolina, seems like the perfect place to reinvent her life.  Shedding a stressful past as a counselor for a women's shelter, Cora is pouring all her talents - and most of her savings - into a craft retreat business, with help from close pal and resident potter Jane Starr.  Between transforming her Victorian estate into a crafter's paradise and babysitting Jane's daughter, the new entrepreneur has no time for distractions.  Especially rumors about the murder of a local school librarian...

But when Jane's fingerprints match those found at the grisly crime scene, Cora not only worries about her friend, but her own reputation.  With angry townsfolk eager for justice and both Jane's innocence and the retreat at risk, she must rely on her creative chops to unlace the truth behind the beloved librarian's disturbing demise.  Because if the killer's patterns are pinned, Cora's handiwork could end up in stitches. 

********

Cora Chevalier, who decided to start a new life after developing an anxiety disorder at her job as a counselor in a women's shelter, and Jane Starr, her best friend who wound up at the shelter to get away from an abusive husband, have recently moved along with Jane's daughter London to Indigo Gap, North Carolina and plan to open a crafting retreat in an old Victorian home that Cora has purchased.  They believe they've found the perfect place in an idyllic setting, and there's even a carriage house on the property which is home to Jane and London.  Everything is coming together for their first retreat, with attendees and the caterer lined up.

But when a local librarian is murdered, and partial fingerprints that might match Jane's are found near the body, she's been labeled a Person of Interest in the death, and once the locals discover this, they cancel their attendance and there's other backlash as well, leading Cora to think her new business might fail.  She feels her only chance for helping Jane and making a go of her new life is to find the killer herself, if she can only stay out of harm's way long enough to do so...

First off, let me say that I was really looking forward to reading this first book in a new series.  However, I struggled with the fact that the newspaper would publish the name of a 'Person of Interest' without any proof: an unmatched fingerprint, the fact that no one ever stated whether Jane had been in Sarah's house to prove the print could have belonged to her, she'd only been in town a month, etc. POI could also mean they're merely a witness, so publishing this information would be foolhardy.  This is a pretty major flaw to begin the book on, considering the plot is focused on that fact.  (It has been done, but if the person turns out to be innocent, the newspaper could be sued).

I also thought that the mystery took second place to the women thinking every guy was hot and even Ruby was telling Cora she needed to "get laid".  With their past histories, you wouldn't think they'd be so man-crazy.  Even a couple attendees were sleeping around while they were at the retreat.  I felt that it detracted from what could have been a really good mystery.

Aside from these two things, I liked the premise of a series based on a crafting retreat.  Being a crafter myself, I thought this was great.  I enjoyed the descriptions of the house and the different crafting techniques; the projects and recipes at the end of the book are a nice touch.

When we find out the identity of the killer, and why the crime was committed, it seems rather sad and twisted; the reality is that loyalty and love know no bounds.  All in all, not a bad start to a new series, and I will read the next book.
  


More on Mollie Cox Bryan's books:  https://www.fantasticfiction.com/b/mollie-cox-bryan/

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

All You Need is Fudge (A Candy-Coated Mystery #4)

Author:  Nancy Coco
Genre:  Mystery

Paperback; Ebook
ISBN #:  9781496701626
Kensington Publishing
352 Pages
$7.99; $4.99 Amazon
July 26, 2016

Five Stars



The annual yacht race off the coast of Mackinac Island, Michigan, is a highlight of the summer season, and Allie is pulling out all the stops making chocolate centerpieces for the occasion.  Unfortunately, she and her Bichonpoo, Mal, also pull a dead body from the murky waters of the marina.  When Allie's boyfriend's sister becomes the prime suspect, Allie dives into investigating the murder herself.  Amid bitter feuds and hushed-up scandals, the courageous candymaker quickly gets in over her head.  Someone is trying to fudge the facts to keep a secret worth killing for...

********

Allie McMurphy owns an historic hotel and fudge shop on Mackinac Island, Michigan that she inherited from her grandparents.  While taking her puppy Mal out for a walk on the coast one morning, she sees someone floating in the water, and pulls her to shore.  Realizing the girl is dead she calls 911 and soon discovers the dead girl is Carin Moore, a young woman about the same age as Allie.

It doesn't take long before she discovers that Carin wasn't well-liked by many people.  But did anyone dislike her enough to want her dead?  It seems someone did, and the police think that someone is her boyfriend Trent Jessop's sister, Paige.  It turns out they were seen arguing the day before the murder, and the police have enough evidence to arrest Paige on suspicion of murder.  When the Jessops close ranks against everyone in town, including Allie, she's determined to prove that Paige isn't a killer and find out the truth even if it means putting her own life in danger...

When Paige is arrested and charged with the murder of Carin, Trent withdraws from Allie and stops taking her phone calls or answering her texts.  Allie is naturally hurt and upset, and decides that she's going to show Trent she can be of help to his family by finding the real killer.  But it doesn't help that Trent's withdrawal is causing her to wonder if his feelings for her are as deep as hers for him.  

What she does find out is that everyone she talks to has a different version of the same story.  Ferreting out the truth isn't going to be easy and she needs to find out who's lying and why they want Paige to take the fall for something she didn't do.  It's not until Allie realizes that maybe it's not about Paige but Carin that she begins to put the pieces together.

This book was a delight to read, with (mostly) likable characters, transporting us to Mackinac Island and its inhabitants.  We learn more about those we've come to spend time with and meet some new residents along the way.  I especially liked the backstory of Mr. Devaney and his request of Allie's help in planning a memorable marriage proposal for Frances; it gave a needed cheerfulness to the story and a sweet touch of romance.

The tale flows well, and the characters are believable, keeping you engaged in the story.  There were quite a few twists, a lot of lies to sift through, and an ending that was something you had to really think about to discover the killer.  A thoroughly enjoyable read, and an easy one to get through in a day or two.  Highly recommended.



More on Nancy Coco's books:  https://www.fantasticfiction.com/c/nancy-coco/

Monday, September 12, 2016

Silk Stalkings (A Material Witness Mystery)

Author:  Diane Vallere
Genre:  Mystery

Paperback; Ebook
ISBN# 9780425270592
Berkley Publishing
304 Pages
$7.99 Amazon
August 2, 2016

Five Stars


The time has come for San Ladron, California's annual Miss Tangorli beauty pageant, and Poly has agreed to use Material Girl's inventory of shimmery silks to create embellished gowns fit for a crown.  But when millionaire Harvey Halliwell - the man who revived the city's citrus trade with his imported tangorli tree - is found dead days before the pageant contestants are announced, something sour takes over the town.

To make matters worse, her friend, mechanic Charlie Brooks, is soon caught up in the crime, having been seen in the company of the case's prime suspect.  Now Poly's on a mission to squeeze out the truth.  But as she searches for a pattern, the killer seems intent on cutting up the evidence...

********

Polyester Monroe lives in San Ladron, California and owns a fabric shop, Material Girl, that she inherited from her late aunt and uncle.  One evening while attending a local event, she is spending some time with her could-be-boyfriend, Vaughn McMichael, in the gardens of Waverly House, an historic inn owned by his mother, when she sees two men arguing across the way from them, one of them clad entirely in orange, right down to his hair.  Vaughn identifies him as Harvey Halliwell, the man behind the pageant and creator of the Tangorli, a cross between a tangerine, orange and lime.  When she sees Harvey fall down, the other hurries away.  She rushes over, sending Vaughn to call for help.  When he leaves, Harvey recovers, insists he's fine and departs before Vaughn returns.

The next day she is approached in her shop by Nolene Kelly, Harvey's employee and organizer of the beauty pageant.  She asks Poly to help out, guaranteeing a hefty fee.  It seems Nolene wants all the young ladies who have entered to have the same chance of winning, so she's asked Poly to help:  She wants her to sell each of them ten yards of silk, allow them to design their own gown, and Poly will have seamstresses sew the creations.  Not willing to turn down a lucrative assignment, she agrees.

But later that day when she is heading across the gardens, she finds Harvey's body - he's been stabbed with an orange-handed knife.    But who killed him?  When Poly starts talking to people, and they to her, she finds that there is no lack of suspects; in fact, the more information she gains, the more she discovers that there were any number of people who wouldn't be upset to see Harvey dead and gone.  But which one is the killer?

To add to the confusion, it seems the man who was arguing with Harvey the night before he died is the man who gave her friend Charlie a home for several years and treated her like his own daughter.  While his actions are suspicious, Charlie is adamant that he's no killer, and Poly needs to find out if Charlie's loyalties are misplaced or someone else would be happy to see him take the fall.

Silk Stalkings is delightful to read.  There is intrigue aplenty, and red herrings around every corner.  Just when you think one person might be the guilty party, someone else comes along.  Although there are plenty of people who could have wanted Harvey dead, there is only one killer (sorry, folks, this isn't Murder on the Orient Express) and Poly is having a difficult time figuring out who that is.

To add to it all, she's trying to figure out her relationship with Vaughn.  While the romance, as it were, is secondary to the murder (as it should be) it's still quite interesting to see how he reacts to certain situations she puts him in, and enjoyable enough to see how he handles it all.  I look forward to seeing more on this development in later books.

The plot is tangled in tightly with secrets being revealed along the way, and any one of them could have gotten Harvey killed.  But deciphering the truth isn't as easy as all that for Poly, and she finds that sometimes it's not the secrets that can get you killed, but the truths that were hiding in plain sight all along.

When we come to the end and the murderer is revealed, it's both satisfying and believable.  The characters are given depth and are convincing.  Ms. Vallere has given us a plot that entails a highly wrought elaborate plan that is inviting and also a pleasure to unravel.  This is the third book in the series, but enough information is given that it can be read as a stand alone.  Highly recommended.

https://www.amazon.com/Silk-Stalkings-Material-Witness-Mystery/dp/0425270599/


More on Diane Vallere's books:  https://www.fantasticfiction.com/v/diane-vallere/                                                                       

Altered to Death (Faith Hunter Scrap This Volume 6)

Author:  Christina Freeburn Genre:  Mystery Hardcover; Trade Paperback; Digital Book ISBN #:  9781635112825; 9781635112795 Henery Press...