Wednesday, February 28, 2018

As the Christmas Cookie Crumbles (A Food Lovers' Village Mystery #5)

Author:  Leslie Budewitz
Genre:  Mystery

Trade Paperback; Digital Book
ISBN #:  9780738752419
Midnight Ink Publishing
288 Pages
$15.99; $11.99 Amazon
June 8, 2018


In Jewel Bay, all is merry and bright.  At Murphy's Mercantile, AKA the Merc, manager Erin Murphy is ringing in the holiday season with food, drink, and a new friend: Merrily Thornton.  A local girl gone wrong, Merrily's turned her life around.  But her parents have publicly shunned her, and they nurse a bitterness that chills Erin.

When Merrily goes missing and her boss discovers he's been robbed, fingers point to Merrily - until she's found dead, a string of lights around her neck.  The clues and danger snowball from there.  Can Erin nab the killer - and keep herself in one piece - in time for a special Christmas Eve?


When Erin Murphy is outside the Mercantile stringing Christmas lights, she decides to look at the Thornton's shop window.  Every year, they have the most amazing display, and this year is no different...except that their daughter Merrily has arrived in town, and with no welcome from her parents.  When she hears the conversation - Merrily's mother Taya is berating her and telling her to leave, Erin takes pity and invites her into the Merc.  After commiserating with her and feeling sorry for Merrily, she invites her to the cookie exchange she's having that Sunday.

It seems Merrily spent time in prison for embezzlement when she was only a teenager, and most people think she got taken advantage of by the true embezzler; yet her parents haven't forgiven her, and it doesn't look like they ever will.  But when Merrily doesn't show up for the cookie exchange, Erin is concerned until she receives a phone call from Greg Taylor - and it doesn't bode well.

Greg hired Merrily to work for him as a bookkeeper, but when he discovered missing money and she didn't show up for work he went looking for her - and found her, dead - with a string of Christmas lights around her neck.  He called Erin because she'd been through this before.  But Erin can't figure out what Merrily could have done to get herself killed - she doesn't believe she stole from Greg's hardware store, since there's no real evidence; but there doesn't seem to be any other explanation.

It seems Greg is the main suspect, and his sister Wendy asks Erin to investigate since she thinks the police will arrest him for the crime.  So Erin tells her she'll think about it - and that she does, discovering things along the way that don't make any sense.  Where is the missing money?  Merrily wasn't living high, and Erin discovers evidence that shows she didn't leave her home of her own free will.  But finding the truth could take some time - time Erin doesn't have with her wedding day nearing, and she might not make it anyway if someone else has their way...

I enjoyed reading this book, the fifth in the series.  This time around, Erin is getting ready for her Christmas wedding to Adam when the tragedy of murder occurs.  Although she's not a friend of Merrily, who was years ahead of her in school, she still knows the family and hears the history of why Merrily left.  But the woman looked so bereft that Erin knew she had to reach out to her, and when she didn't show for the exchange, Erin was concerned.

What follows is a maze of clues all leading in one direction, but that direction isn't easy to find.  You have to sift through them (they are there) before you find the truth.  And the truth isn't an easy pill to swallow.  It makes one wonder how there are people who can go through this life seemingly caring for others, but in reality are a different type of human being altogether.

In the end, it was a very good mystery and put together well, and I enjoyed reading it.  Although it takes place at Christmas, I believe that it can be read any time of the year, and can also be read as a stand alone.  Recommended.


More on Leslie Budewitz's Books:

Monday, February 26, 2018

Death al Dente (A Food Lovers' Village Mystery 31)

Author:  Leslie Budewitz
Genre:  Mystery

Mass Market Paperbook; Audio CD; Digital Book
ISBN #:  9780425259542; 9781541452084
Berkley Publishing
304 Pages
$7.99; $21.80; $2.99 Amazon
August 6, 2013


The town of Jewel Bay, Montana - known as a Food Lovers' Village - is obsessed with homegrown and homemade Montana fare.  So when Erin Murphy takes over her family's century-old general store, she turns it into a boutique market filled with local delicacies.  But Erin's freshly booming business might go rotten when a former employee turns up dead...

Murphy's Mercantile, known as the Merc, has been a staple in Jewel Bay for over a hundred years.  To celebrate their recent makeover as a gourmet food market, Erin has organized a town festival, Festa di Pasta, featuring the culinary goods of Jewel Bay's finest - including her mother Fresca's delicious Italian specialties.

But Erin's sweet success is soured when the shop's former manager, Claudette, is found dead behind the Merc on the Festa's opening night.  With rival chef James Angelo stirring up rumors that Fresca's sauce recipes were stolen from Claudette, Erin's mother is under close scrutiny.  Now Erin will have to hunt down some new suspects, or both her family and her store might wind up in hot water...


Erin Murphy has returned home to Montana after many years away to help run her family business, Murphy's Mercantile.  She's decided that the way to go to make it profitable is to carry items made in Montana, including her mother's own Italian recipes.

But first her mother is accused of stealing the recipes of an old friend, Claudette, who has hightailed it to Las Vegas with a local chiropractor; and even though Fresca (her mother) denies it, there are still rumors.  Then, when Claudette suddenly returns - and is found dead behind the mercantile - the rumors are getting serious.  Suddenly Fresca is the main suspect and Erin decides the only way to clear her mother (who refuses any help) is to find the killer herself.  But will her investigation do more harm than good?

I honestly really wanted to like this book, and I tried...but I kept falling asleep every time I picked it up.  I'm not sure why; usually I have no problem reading books straight through, and even managing to read one a day.  But this one...

The characters were boring.  The dialogue was boring.  We never get to know anything at all about Claudette; there is only one small conversation between Erin and her where she tells Erin the rumors are false and how she found out the chiropractor was never in love with her.  Then...she's dead.  So we never get to engage with her at all - even though everyone says that she was wonderful, all I got to see was a crying, near-hysterical woman over a broken short-lived affair. 

The detective in charge of the case is an old ex-friend of Erin's, and honestly, I finished the book because I wanted to see why they'd drifted apart after Erin's father's death, and it was a letdown.  Also, I didn't understand why she felt the need to call her mother by her first name.  Didn't she want customers to know they were related?  Was she afraid of being accused of nepotism?  It didn't make any sense.  Many, many people work with their parents and call them Mom or Dad.  It seemed ridiculous.  If she wanted customers to know who created the recipes, just have the woman wear a name tag or something.  Don't call your mother by her first name at work and then 'mom' at home.  Good grief.

I think part of the problem is Erin is self-centered.  She seems a bit snobbish, and so does her sister, Chiara.  Also, there's just Too Much Detail about things that aren't important to the reader.  It's hard to actually place, but the dialogue for one could be a little more interesting.  (And honestly, who's going to join a Jam Club?)

In the end, the reason for the murder didn't really make any sense to me, so that's part of the reason the book fell flat.  As it is, I always try to give the author a pass on the first in a new series, and I will read the next in the hope that it will improve.


More on Leslie Budewitz's Books:

Friday, February 23, 2018

Killing in C Sharp (A Gethsemane Brown Mystery Book 3)

Author:  Alexia Gordon
Genre:  Mystery

Hardcover; Trade Paperback: Audio CD; Digital Book
ISBN #:  9781635113075; 9781635113044; 9781974902866
Henery Press Publishing
288 Pages
$31.95; $15.95; $29.99; $4.99 Amazon
March 6, 2018


She saved Carraigfaire - but can she save her friends?  Gethsemane Brown fought off an attack by a sleazy hotel developer who wanted to turn her Irish cottage into a tourist trap.  Now she must face a vengeful ghost determined to exact revenge for her murder centuries ago.  This ghost's wrath spares no one - not Gethsemane's students, Inspector Niall O'Reilly, fellow teacher Frankie Grennan, or a group of ghost hunters descended on Dunmullach to capture proof ghosts exist.  Proof Gethsemane has to quash to keep Eamon, her resident ghost and friend, from becoming an Internet sensation.  As if a spiteful specter wasn't bad enough, a crooked music review turns up dead in the opera house orchestra pit, a famous composer is arrested for the crime, and Gethsemane must team up with a notorious true-crime author to clear his name.  If she doesn't, friends will die, a ghost she cares about will never know peace, and she'll star in a final act gruesome enough for any opera.             


Gethsemane Brown is looking forward to a visit from a once-famous composer whose career was ruined by a scathing review.  When she meets Aed, she is glad to have the chance to hear his new opera.  But on the other hand, she's disgusted by the fact that her landlord Billy McCarthy (nephew of her resident ghost Eamon) has ordered her to open her little cottage to paranormal investigators to prove that Eamon exists.  But that's not all.  She also has to deal with a true crime writer, Venus James, who wrote a book on Eamon and his wife Orla that was claimed murder-suicide (not true) which hasn't endeared her to Gethsemane.

But as if things couldn't get any worse, they do.  Bernard Stoltz, the man who wrote the career-ending review, has also arrive in their little village and it's not just Aed who hates him, but she notices that Venus doesn't want anything to do with him, either.  In fact, Aed and Bernard get into a fight and Venus refuses to stay at the same hotel as Bernard, leaving only Gethsemane to offer her refuge.

But it's the legend the opera is based upon that is causing the most problems - a young woman who was walled up in a castle by her own family.  Maja has cursed anyone who writes of her, and one of the investigators, a woman named Poe, seems almost excited about Maja returning.  When the opera is given a rehearsal, for all appearances it seems Maja has returned, along with her curse - that all first born men will die.  There is an actual death, of course, but then something strange happens - Inspector O'Reilly takes suddenly ill, along with Gethsemane's fellow teacher Frankie Grennan - and half the boys who were attending; an investigator, and probably more in the village.

Now Gethsemane has to wonder how to stop the curse, keep the investigators from finding out about Eamon, find out who killed the man at rehearsal, and suddenly everything seems to be swirling around her when she gets help from two unlikely sources - Eamon and Saoirse Nolan, a twelve-year-old genius - who may be her only chance to save the lives of her friends...

I will say that of the three books I've read so far, I liked this one the best. Gethsemane has lost some of the arrogance I found to be present in the previous two, and has become more attached to her little village, and in turn, her new friends.  While she hasn't lost her sharp wit, she has mellowed her sharp tongue which before seemed to me to be snarky.  Therefore I like her better as a person.  I also liked the fact that it showed in this book how much she cares about Niall and Frankie and how their health was foremost in her mind.

I liked the intrigue and the search for a killer; there were enough suspects with everyone hating the man; and soon secrets began to come to the forefront that only muddied the waters and made it harder for Gethsemane to find the answers.  Unlike other books, this time with Frankie and Niall both being under the curse, it was up to her - with a little help from Venus - to find a killer and look for ways to stop the curse.  It was an interesting journey with lots of action throughout.

There were a couple of things that bothered me - why would Maja take it out on everyone's children for what had happened to her?  They had done nothing, and should not have been punished (and to tell the truth, the first born thing reminded me too much of The Ten Commandments); and when push comes to shove, I found the ending Not Quite Believable.  The method used - and I won't state it here - just seemed a tad far-fetched for me (and for the record, I do believe in ghosts).  It wasn't quite jumping the shark, but it came close - and that's just my personal opinion.  However, I didn't allow it to influence my enjoyment of the book.

All in all, the killer was found (as we know they must be), justice was served in its own way for all involved, and there was of course, sadness involved, as you can't always have happy endings all around.  A satisfying read and I look forward to the next in the series.  Recommended.


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Thursday, February 22, 2018

No Cats Allowed (A Cat in the Stacks Mystery #7)

Author:  Miranda James
Genre:  Mystery

Hardcover; Mass Market Paperback; Audio CD; Paperback (LP); Digital Book
ISBN #:  9780425277744; 9780425277751; 9781515956488; 9781410494566
Berkley Publishing
304 Pages
Various; $7.19; $24.99; $25.64; $7.99 Amazon
February 7, 2017


Mississippi librarian Charlie Harris and his Maine Coon cat Diesel are on their guard.  Oscar Reilly, the new director at the Athena College library, is on a mission to cut costs and has set his sights on the archive and rare book collection.  Reilly's also out to replace Charlie's fiery friend Melba with someone younger, but his biggest offense is declaring all four-legged creatures banned from the stacks.

With enemies aplenty, the suspect list is long when Reilly's body is discovered in the library, but incriminating evidence throws suspicion on Melba.  Charlie is convinced that his friend is no murderer, especially when he catches sight of a menacing stranger lurking around the library.  Now he and Diesel will have to read between the lines, before Melba is shelved under "G" for guilty...


Charlie Harris doesn't like Oscar Reilly, the Athena College library's new director, and neither does anyone else.  He's managed to offend everyone he comes in contact with, and has just called Charlie's friend Melba a liar.  To make it worse, he's filed a complaint with HR that he's allergic to cats, and wants to ban Diesel from the library.

There have also been a series of pranks played on Reilly by someone, from writing 'Oscar the Grouch' on his car...with a lipstick that turns out to be Melba's, and several employees who were seemingly fired by him in a letter - a letter that had his forged signature.  There have been other pranks as well.

Before he'll allow that to happen, Charlie vows to quit his job.  But then he hears that Reilly wants to get rid of the rare book collection and the archives, which Charlie has worked on lovingly and carefully the entire time he's been there.  But before anyone can do anything else, Charlie gets the news that Reilly is dead, and Melba's lipstick has been found near the body.  He calls his son Sean to help her as he's convinced she's innocent, and realizes that whether he wants it or not, he has to get involved this time to save his friend.

But then Charlie is asked by the president of the college to take over as interim director.  When he agrees, he doesn't realize that he's about to become the next victim of the pranks.  Even the heightened security hasn't been able to stop it.  Now Charlie realizes that the killer may very well be someone who works at the library, and he needs to figure out who it is before he becomes the next victim...

I have to tell the truth and say that I haven't been terribly fond of this series up until now.  I actually enjoyed reading this book.  I don't know whether it's because I've gotten used to the characters, but the plot was very well thought out and there was less angst from Charlie about his kids, his girlfriend, etc.  It makes for a much better plot if we can concentrate on the murder, the reason behind it, the surrounding clues and such rather than what dishes he's going to wash next.

There were plenty of suspects to choose from, and even a few red herrings thrown in.  It made for a nice change in that there was lots to sift through and find the right suspect.  Although I didn't feel that it was difficult to do so - I am sure others, like myself, pretty much knew who the killer was for most of the book - it was still nice to see the interplay between characters.

When we come to the end and all is revealed, it is a reason that is age old but still quite believable, and that made it a nice read indeed.  Recommended.


More on Miranda James's Books:

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

The Otter of Death (Gunn Zoo Series Book 5)

Author:  Betty Webb
Genre:  Mystery

Hardcover; Trade Paperback
ISBN #:  9781464209901; 9781464209925
Poisoned Pen Press
$26.95; $15.95 Amazon
May 2, 2018


While taking the yearly "otter count" at a marsh near Gunn Landing Harbor, California, zookeeper Theodora Bentley sees Maureen, her favorite otter, swimming around clutching someone's expensive smartphone.  When Teddy rescues the device, she discovers a photograph of a murder-in-progress.  A hasty search soon turns up the still-warm body of Stuart Booth, PhD, a local Marine Biology instructor.

Booth was a notorious sexual harasser of young female students, so the list of suspects is long enough to make Teddy wonder if the crime will ever be solved.  But when her friend, Lila, one of Booth's original accusers, is arrested and charged with his murder, Teddy begins to investigate.  This creates considerable tension with Teddy's fiancé, Sheriff Joe Rejas.  He believes the ever-inquisitive zookeeper might be putting her own life at risk, and so orders her to butt out.

Concerned for her accused friend, Teddy ignores Joe's ultimatum.  She questions not only members of Gunn Landing's moneyed social elite, but also the other side of the financial spectrum - the financially strapped young women willing to do almost anything to pay for their college tuition.  Alarmed by Teddy's meddling, Booth's killer fights back - first with a death threat, then via gunshot.


Theodora 'Teddy' Bentley, a zookeeper at the Gunn Zoo, is helping with an annual otter count when one of her particularly friendly otters shows up with a cell phone under its fin.  When she retrieves the phone, she realizes it belongs to Stuart Booth, a local Marine Biology instructor who's also helping with the count.  But then she looks at the last picture taken - a selfie - and realizes that Stuart was being murdered at the time.  When she calls the sheriff, her fiance Joe Rejas, their department searches until they find the professor's body.

Joe naturally tells Teddy to stay out of the investigation and she wants to, but her boss, Aster Edwina gives her different instructions.  She wants Teddy to quietly investigate and keep her updated on what's going on.  Stuck between a rock and hard place, Teddy has to figure out how to do it and keep Joe from finding out.

When Teddy's neighbor on the marina is arrested for the murder she asks her stepfather to intervene and help, because she knows the woman is innocent.  But then the park's ranger, Lex Yarnell asks Teddy to visit an old girlfriend of his who might know something about Stuart and he wants to keep her out of it if possible.

However, Teddy soon finds out that no one is grieving for Stuart - in fact, some are grateful he's gone; and the more she finds out about him, the more she realizes there are plenty of people who wanted him dead.  When a second murder occurs and is apparent it's tied to Stuart's death, things start to get serious - Teddy receives warnings to back off, her dog is injured, and if she doesn't find out who's behind it all, she may very well be the next victim...

This book was a true delight to read.  Ms. Webb has a knack for creating an atmosphere of mystery while reading about one - she pulls you into the story and keeps you there, even if it means reading into the wee hours of the morning.

This is the fifth book in the series, and each one seems to be better than the last.  We get to see a warmth from Teddy's mother Caro that isn't always apparent, and during one particular social occasion we understand why she left her high society life behind (I would, too).  We also get to spend time with Joe's family - his mother and two children - and even the fact that his Irish mother loves the color green seems rather endearing, in a way.

While Joe is doing his best to keep on the investigation, as sheriff he naturally has other problems as well and can't be two places at once.  He's also doing his best to get Teddy to the altar, and she keeps hedging on a wedding date, not wanting to completely give up her independence aboard her little boat.

There is plenty of action and suspense, enough to keep even the most die-hard mystery fan interested.  It seems that when Teddy does get a moment of calm, something else is lurking right around the corner which causes her to be drawn not only back into the investigation, but at times become part of it.

When we finally realize the identity of the killer it comes as a complete surprise.  The reasons for the murders make sense only to the killer; it is also rather sad in a way what drives people to do evil things.  This was a very good book indeed and I only wish that I were able to read the next in the series.  Highly recommended.


More on Betty Webb's Books:

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Pressing the Issue (A Cookbook Nook Mystery Volume 6)

Author:  Daryl Wood Gerber
Genre:  Mystery

Trade Paperback; Digital Book
ISBN #:  9781946069528
Beyond the Page Publishing
242 Pages
$15.99; $3.99 Amazon
February 14, 2018


As the annual Renaissance Fair comes to Crystal Cove, Jenna Hart's Cookbook Nook is packed with tasty treats and all things medieval, while her pal Bailey is ready to swoon over her upcoming nuptials at a local vineyard.  But when the two friends discover the body of the vineyard's owner bludgeoned by a winepress, all their merriment fades, along with their hopes for a vintage year.

While churlish varlet did the deed?  Was it the victim's errant brother, who stood to inherit the vineyards?  Or the owner's crestfallen ex-girlfriend?  Mayhap it was the newly arrived comely wench, or her jealous husband.   Fie on them all!  Verily, Jenna can't rest until justice is served, and she vows to track down the killer.  But can she sniff out the truth before the villainous culprit strikes again?


When Jenna Hart prepares for the annual Renaissance Fair, she thinks she's going to be busy selling cookbooks and offering classes to tourists.  She's also helping her best friend Bailey prepare for her wedding at Nick Baldini's vineyard.

The sad part is that Nick has recently broken up with Jenna's friend Dolly, and Dolly doesn't seem to be taking it well, even going so far as to visit Jenna's aunt Vera for help in getting him back.  But when Jenna is asked to take part in a video for fairgoers, she sees Nick, who is portraying King Henry VIII, in conversation with an attractive blonde.  Curious, she wonders if this is the reason he broke up with Dolly.

But Jenna discovers that Melody Beaufort is married, and temporary tenants of another friend of hers.  Still, she sees that Nick is interested in Melody, and her curiosity gets the better of her, and she wants to know why Nick was pursuing Melody.

When Jenna and Bailey visit the vineyard later on to discuss wedding preparations, she overhears a heated conversation between Nick and his younger brother Alan, but Nick blows it off as typical, so Jenna doesn't think about it again.  With a little probing, Jenna gets Nick to admit he's in love, discovers it's not Dolly, but he won't tell her who it is; so after finalizing plans they leave.

Then Bailey receives a cryptic call from Nick and she, her fiancé Tito, Jenna and Jenna's boyfriend Rhett rush to the vineyard and find Nick dead in the kitchen.  After calling the police and being questioned, they go home.  But Jenna liked Nick and needs to know who wanted him dead.  Even though she trusts the police to do their job, Jenna's curious streak won't let her rest unless she at least tries to help, even if it causes her more trouble than she wants...

I was really looking forward to reading this book, the premise sounded so interesting- murder at a Ren fair.  But unfortunately, it fell flat for me somewhere in the middle.  First off, Katie the chef tells the class that the pasties they're making rhyme with tasty.  a pasty (paste-y) is something a stripper wears.  A pasty (pass-ty) is a meat pie, and does not rhyme with tasty.  A chef should know the difference.  It's a small detail, but details count.

Then, Bailey seemed unconcerned that a man died.  Yes, I get it was her wedding; but jeez, a man is lying dead on the floor and she's worried about that?  How shallow can you get?  She just seemed like a drama queen in this book, and I didn't much care for her this time around.  Yes, I get that she's getting married, but she accused people of murder without proof of any kind, and it seemed like she was willing to have anyone in jail as long as her wedding wasn't ruined.

As far as the murder goes, it was done well, but I never got the feeling that Cinnamon was doing her job.  We were never given an insight into what she thought, and since this isn't Jenna's first rodeo (as the saying goes) you'd think she'd be more interested in what she had to say, but she appeared to blow off any concerns she had.

Please be aware that the following spoiler pretty much tells the ending and why I would have liked to see Cinnamon's take on the murder in this particular book.

All in all, the book was a good read but I would have liked to have felt more engaged with the characters; I would have especially liked to know that Cinnamon was on top of the investigation, but we were never given any information on what she was doing while Jenna was investigating - she wasn't sharing with anyone, which would have let us know where she was on it, and is which is why I gave it four stars instead of five.  Recommended.


More on Daryl Wood Gerber's Books:

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Lethal in Old Lace (A Consignment Shop Mystery)

Author:  Duffy Brown
Genre:  Mystery

Hardcover; Digital Book
ISBN #:  9781683315353
Crooked Lane Books
304 Pages
$26.99; $10.69 Amazon
March 13, 2018


There are two social functions in Savannah guaranteed to get people talking: weddings and funerals.  And just as consignment shop owner Reagan Summerside agrees to marry the hunky Walker Boone, her neighbors, sisters Annie Fritz and Elsie Abbot, step up their business as professional mourners.  They are so successful that the Sleepy Pines Retirement Center has hired them as a part of their retirement package.  But the celebration over good business is cut short when the residents at Pines suddenly begin dying at an alarming rate.  And the sisters are the first suspects.

Reagan has her doubts, however, and begins to look into the strange phenomenon.  But then something even stranger happens: a body winds up in the sisters' pink Caddy.  The evidence begins to pile up and the suspicious case of Willie Fishbine, who swindled the sisters out of a fortune and coincidentally died prior to the Pines case, is reopened.

Not wanting Willie to be buried until they can find the killer responsible for the murders, Reagan must catch the culprit in time to walk down the aisle.


When Reagan Summerside is blindsided by a proposal of marriage from attorney Walker Boone - the same attorney who took her to the cleaners in her divorce - she thinks she's the happiest woman on earth.  And she is - for a few minutes or so.  At least until she sees a dead body in her neighbors' Caddy.  A dead body that suddenly isn't there, and neither is the car.  But when she heads back home to her old Victorian that doubles not only as her living quarters but her consignment shop the Prissy Fox, she sees the same her front window with her mannequin.

Now alarmed, by the time she convinces her Aunt Kiki to come look, the body has once again disappeared.  But it's not just a case of the roving body that has her up in arms, it's the fact that she knows her neighbors, the elderly Annie Fritz and Elsie are involved.  While she doesn't believe for a minute that they've murdered anyone, it's become a case of who is the old woman and where is she? for Reagan.

However, things are never that easy for her, and this is another time that proves it to be true.  Because she also has another problem - due to her aunt's sweet tooth, she now has to find out who murdered a young teen's grandfather, and she only has three days to prove it.  Even though the coroner labeled it natural causes she's suspicious.  So suddenly Reagan has to figure out the problem with the deceased Bonnie Sue (the Caddy lady), Willie Fishbine (the grandfather) why Dexter Thomas is hanging around her sleazy ex-husband Hollis, her Aunt Kiki going undercover in a funeral home, Walker trying to renovate her home, people managing to unexpectedly become part of her wedding party, and her mother doing her best to plan it all.  Just another day in the life of Reagan Summerside, Disaster Area...

I have to say that this book is one of the funniest I've read in a long time.  There is so much going on, and the author pulls you in from the first page.  How Reagan finds herself in these situations is beyond me, but I sure am glad I'm not her best friend.  I'd never get any rest.

While Reagan still can't believe that Boone wants to marry her, she knows she has to help her elderly friends before they're railroaded for something they didn't do.  But finding out who killed Bonnie Sue and dumped her body in the Caddy isn't going to be an easy task, especially when the more she digs, the more it becomes apparent that there are all sorts of people who might have wanted her gone.  Except the two men who were keeping company with her and are now willing to fight a duel to see who gets to give her eulogy...

See what I mean?  Humor throughout.  Who knew Savannah could be such a hotbed for frisky seniors?  Ms. Brown writes with a mean pen in this series.  She keeps you laughing (even though murder isn't at all funny) and the Case of the Traveling Casket is hilarious indeed.

Reagan is a delightful woman; she's funny (without meaning to be), generous, caring, loving, and thoughtful.  Sadly, she's prone to unfortunate situations as well.  Boone is a hunky male specimen.  All the rest of the characters have depth and are way past the point of quirkiness.  Closer to insane is what I'd say.  But in a good way.  I think.  No, I'm sure of it.  These are people that have a tight bond with each other, in good times and in bad.  People that will do anything for each other (and it shows).

The book is a nice blend of hijinks and mystery, never losing the fact that there's a murderer on the loose, and Reagan would rather find them sooner than later.  It is the process of this, however, that makes the book so good and gives it a unique essence.

When all is said and done and the murderer is revealed, I can say that I was surprised.  There were plenty of red herrings throughout, and it was lots of fun trying to discover the truth, but the ending was indeed worth it all.  I eagerly look forward to the next in the series.  Highly recommended.


More on Duffy Brown's Books:

Monday, February 12, 2018

Arsenic and Old Books (A Cat in the Stacks Mystery #6)

Author:  Miranda James
Genre:  Mystery

Hardcover; Mass Market Paperback; Audio CD; Paperback (LP); Digital Book
ISBN #:  9780425257296; 9780425277539; 9781452618883; 9781410482273
Berkley Publishing
320 Pages
$18.78; $7.99; $30.52; $26.99; $7.99
February 2, 2016


Lucinda Beckwith Long, the mayor of Athena, Mississippi, has donated a set of Civil War-era diaries to the archives of Athena College.  She would like librarian Charlie Harris to preserve and substantiate them as a part of the Long family legacy - something that could benefit her son, Beck, as he prepares to campaign for the state senate.

Beck's biggest rival would like to get a look at the diaries in an attempt to expose the Long family's past sins.  Meanwhile, a history professor is also determined to get her hands on the books in a last-ditch bid for tenure.  But their interest suddenly turns deadly, leaving Charlie with a catalog of questions to answer.  Together with his Maine Coon cat Diesel, Charlie must discover why the diaries were worth killing for before he too reaches his final chapter.


Charlie Harris, librarian, is surprised when Lucinda Beckwith Long, mayor of Athena, Mississippi, appears in his office one day with a bag of Civil War-era diaries written by an ancestor of her husband's.  She wants to donate them and have Charlie preserve them for future reference, and she also thinks it will help her son Beck win an election, although Charlie has no idea how.

He's also surprised when a young reporter, Kelly Grimes, shows up shortly after requesting to see the diaries, and not happy when he tells her that they aren't ready for public viewing as yet.  But then he's stunned when Professor Marie Steverton, a professor in the history department, also shows up and demands access to the diaries.  Again, Charlie tells her she needs to wait but Marie refuses to accept that answer and tells him that she will speak with Mayor Long herself to get access.

Charlie is still nonetheless surprised even more when the mayor calls him and tells him that Marie should have access to the diaries - so they strike a bargain:  give him one week to verify the diaries and then he will allow Marie first access, which seems to work for Charlie.  But before anything can be done, someone breaks into Charlie's office and steals the diaries.

While Charlie is pretty sure the thief is either Marie or Kelly, he has no proof.  And any further questioning of Marie isn't going to happen:  she's killed in a hit-and-run accident the night Charlie questions her.  But stranger still: the diaries are returned to Charlie's office as quickly as they disappeared.

Then Mayor Long appears with another diary in tow, one she insisted was hidden in another compartment in the trunk where her son found the others.  But what this diary contains could change everything for Beck's opponent Jasper Singletary and perhaps change the stakes in the election...but change it enough to kill?

In the end, the story wasn't riveting and it didn't seem to be enough to completely hold my attention.  It was fine as far as mysteries go, but the ending fell slightly flat for me.  Still, I've bought others in the series so I will read them but I won't purchase any new ones that haven't yet been published.

As it is, I've read six books in the series so far and at the least, found them semi-enjoyable, but something has been niggling at me yet I couldn't quite place it - until now.  I've added a spoiler regarding this, and be aware that it concerns all the previous books in the series including this one.  If you haven't read them and don't want to know the outcome, I urge you not to read it.

If you've read the spoiler, then perhaps you'll understand why I'm not thrilled with these books.  As I stated above, I've already bought a few more in the series (which I often do ahead of time) so there may be more reviews to come.  Please be aware that these are my own personal observations and my own opinions.  I am also aware that there are others who will disagree, and that's perfectly fine; there's always hope in a series that it will get better, so we will see.


More on Miranda James's Books:

Thursday, February 8, 2018

The Silence of the Library (A Cat in the Stacks Mystery #5)

Author:  Miranda James
Genre:  Mystery

Paperback(LP); Mass Market Paperback; MP3 CD; Digital Book
ISBN #:  9781410470409; 9780425257289; 9781452668871
Berkley Publishing
320 Pages
$26.99; $7.99; $22.04; $7.99 Amazon
January 28, 2014


It's National Library Week, and the Athena Public Library is planning an exhibit to honor the centenary of famous novelist Electra Barnes Cartwright - creator of the beloved Veronica Thane series.

Charlie has a soft spot for Cartwright's girl detective stories (not to mention an extensive collection of her books!)  When the author agrees to make a rare public appearance, the news of her whereabouts goes viral overnight, and series devotees and book collectors converge on Athena.

After all, it's rumored that Cartwright penned Veronica Thane stories that remain under wraps, and one rabid fan will stop at nothing - not even murder - to get hold of the rare books...


When Charlie Harris discovers one of his favorite childhood writers - Electra Barnes Cartwright - is still alive and even lives nearby, he's excited to learn that not only will her works be featured in a library exhibit, but that she's agreed to attend.  That is, until he learns that her daughter has told them she wants a fee for attending - something that wasn't discussed when he and the library director met with her.

But he also discovers that there are a group of rabid fans who plan on attending and are demanding that Ms. Cartwright sign their book collections, something a nearly one-hundred-year-old woman may not be capable of doing; and the fact that a small publisher has told everyone there are as yet five unpublished manuscripts that he's going to publish; manuscripts no one has ever heard of before now.

But as things get closer to the exhibit date, less and less starts adding up for Charlie; and soon someone he knows is murdered, and it has to do with the books.  Then when he discovers a vital clue that will reveal everything, he needs to enlist help to prove the truth and uncover a murderer before someone else loses their life...

After reading the first five books in this series, I've decided that they're either hit or miss.  Unfortunately, this one is a miss.  After 72 pages, it still couldn't pull me in, and I slogged my way through the rest of it.  For some reason, I just found it completely boring, and even the dialogue wasn't snappy enough to keep my attention.

Even the subplots weren't interesting this time out, including the "problem" his son Sean is having.  For being a sharp-witted attorney, it seems when it comes to his personal life his brain power shuts down, and he can't figure out the right thing to do to solve it.

Then there's a bit of a continuity problem:  Charlie mentions he's half the age of an almost centenarian, yet in the last book he's 51.  Even though this isn't in the same category, it's still pretty odd - poor Diesel is now 36 pounds, when he started out he was 33, last book was 35.  At this rate he'll be 50 pounds by the time the series ends (if it keeps going).  Details matter.

The book just seemed so slow paced.  The clues were there and easy to figure out, and there was nothing silent about this library.  In fact, there was quite bit of noise at all times, so it was mis-titled, at the very least.  (With the title, you would think perhaps a body was found in the library at midnight...when all is usually silent, but no). 

Honestly, while I would have liked to have enjoyed this book, the conversations were so boring.  It was like two people who live in a rest home talking about what they had for dinner the night before.  I also couldn't get past the fact that no one could figure it out until almost the end.  Truly?  I won't say why so as not to spoil it for others, but if you've read it the reason should be pretty obvious.


More on Miranda James's Books:

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

The Pajama Frame (A Madison Night Mystery Book 5)

Author:  Diane Vallere
Genre:  Mystery

Hardcover; Trade Paperback; Audio CD; Digital Book
ISBN #:  9781635113037; 9781635113006; 9781974902927
Henery Press Publishing
268 Pages
$31.95; $15.95; $29.99; $6.99 Amazon
February 27, 2018


Nightie Night!  Interior decorator Madison Night is no stranger to the occasional odd inheritance.  But when an octogenarian friend dies and leaves her a pajama factory, the bounty is bittersweet.  Once a thriving business, Sweet Dreams closed decades ago after a tragic accident took the life of a young model.  Or was that simply a cover up?  Between her friend's death and her own stagnant life, Madison is tempted to hide under a blanket of willful ignorance.  But when family members and special interest groups lobby to expose the secrets of the factory, Madison gets caught in a tangle of secrets and lies and discovers that sometimes, the bed you make is not your own.


Madison Night is a Dallas, Texas interior decorator with a twist: she looks like Doris Day, dresses like her, and even her company, Mad for Mod, specializes in decor harking back to the 50's and 60's.  Even though her boyfriend Hudson is miles away in Palm Springs, she thinks her life is almost perfect.  Thinks.  But Madison is in for some major surprises, and not all of them are going to be pleasant.

When she unexpectedly inherits a pajama factory that closed in the 50's due to an accidental death, she doesn't know why.  When she meets John Sweet in front of the factory, he tells her that his step-grandmother Alice left it to her in her will, along with the contents of her house.  He also said there's a sealed letter back at his office explaining everything.  When she arrives at the office before John, she meets Vernon Stanley, who's concerned because they're tax attorneys, not estate planners.  But once John arrives, Vernon insists on attending the proceedings just to make sure everything's on the up-and-up.  When Madison reads the letter later that day, Alice wrote that that there were rumors the death wasn't accidental, and that her husband was thought to have been involved; but since it was devastating to him, he closed the factory.

Yet what should have been an easy acquisition isn't, and Madison finds herself in a dilemma:  Even though the building has been sealed for many years, it seems people already know it has changed hands; so now the local historical society wants her to donate it and a group of protesters want to get inside to find evidence of murder, not an accidental death as everyone thought.

But there's more than that:  Inside a storage facility that once belonged to Alice, Madison finds a gun, and immediately calls Tex.  Then when she finally gets inside the factory another surprise awaits her in the form of a dead body.  You'd think this would be enough to send anyone reeling, but Madison has more revelations ahead:  Another body, another gun, and an actress who's tailing her nemesis Donna Nast in the hopes to win a part in a film based on an experience concerning herself and her boyfriend, who seems removed from everything she tells him about what's transpiring.

It all brings Madison to a place she's never had to face in her life, and it starts to unnerve her.  Yet if she can't put the pieces together soon, it won't make a difference because she won't be alive to figure it out anyway...

This is the fifth book in the series, and in my opinion, the best.  It doesn't take long before the narrative becomes intriguing, and once you're hooked, you want to know much like Madison where it all connects (as we know it must).  While each piece of the puzzle is put in front of you, finding the right correlation takes time.  It's a delicious mesh of clues that are scattered throughout, and once they start to come together, it creates a fascinating tale of lies and deceit that interweave seamlessly.

The characters have depth, the story plotted well; we are drawn into Madison's life as if we were truly a part of it, seeing things through her eyes.  The words flow from the page easily, and Ms. Vallere has a real talent for engaging her readers early on and keeping them interested throughout.

When the murder is found and it all comes together, it's satisfying, and yet shows us how cold-blooded people can be.  But finding a murderer isn't the end of the story, for Madison must also find herself and what she's been keeping in reserve.  Watching her change is quite compelling, as much so as the main plot, and even though change is always inevitable within us, with some it's more difficult to to realize.  The ending, though, leaves a glimpse of what might be and for myself, I find that quite an inviting thing to look forward to.  Highly recommended.


More on Diane Vallere's Books:

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Elvis: A King in the Making

Authors:  Alfred Wertheimer, Foreword by Peter Guralnick
Genre:  Biography/Entertainers

ISBN:  9780785833031
Chartwell Books
224 Pages
$24.99 Amazon
October 17, 2017


In 1956, a twenty-one-year-old Elvis Presley was at the beginning of his remarkable and unparalleted career and photographer Alfred Wertheimer was asked by Presley's new label, RCA Victor, to photograph the rising star.  With unimpeded access to the young performer, Wertheimer was able to capture the unguarded and everyday moments in Elvis' life during that crucial year.

This was a year that took Presley from Tupelo, Mississippi to the silver screen, and to the verge of international stardom and to his coronation as "The King of Rock 'n' Roll."  As Alfred Wertheimer photographed Elvis during 1956, and again in 1958, he created classic images that are spontaneous, unrehearsed and completely without artifice.

Wertheimer's photgraphs of Elvis are extraordinary and he appears almost ethereal, whether reading a newspaper while waiting for a cab, or washing his hands during one of his many train trips.  After 1958 and Elvis' induction into the army, the world seemingly forgot about Wertheimer's magical photographs - for nineteen years - until August 16, 1977, the day Elvis died and Time magazine called.  "The phone hasn't really stopped ringing in the last thirty years," observes Wertheimer.

Many of the photographs in this visual treasury are previously unpublished and some have become almost as famous as the man himself.


This is basically a book of photographs, so there isn't a lot to say about it.  However, it is interesting to read Mr. Wertheimer's recollections of Elvis, before he was Elvis.  At the time these photos were taken, he was a young 21-year-old man, who had no idea of the fame that lay in front of him.  He was probably one of the most beautiful men I've ever seen, and these photos are raw, candid, heartfelt and exquisite; showing Elvis at his most vulnerable.

They show Elvis at one of his first television appearances, in a recording studio, at a concert, and at home in Tupelo.  They show a young man who wants to be somebody, who stops and talks to people, always signing autographs and listening to them.  A man who was attracted to and attractive to women, who loved his family and enjoyed being with them.

The photos of Elvis at home are particularly telling; they show him at his most relaxed, with family and friends surrounding him, and the gentle, courteous young man who was nice to everyone and didn't mind sharing his life.  You can see in these photos the elemental soul of Elvis; watching him sleep, eat and read.

This is the Elvis who was; the Elvis before stardom hit and everything changed.  The photographs are nothing if not incredible; for anyone who has ever listened to Elvis, ever watched one of his films, ever heard him speak - these will make you fall in love with him all over again.  He was indeed remarkable and there will never be another like him.  Highly recommended.


More on Alfred Wertheimer:

Monday, February 5, 2018

Out of Circulation (A Cat in the Stacks Mystery #4)

Author:  Miranda James
Genre:  Mystery

Hardcover; Paperback (LP); Mass Market Paperback; MP3 CD; Digital Book; Audio Book
ISBN #:  9781624901928; 9781410461179; 9780425257272; 9781452668864
Berkley Publishing
304 Pages
Various; $26.99; $7.99; $24.99; $7.99 Amazon
January 29, 2013


The Ducote sisters are in a tiff with Vera Cassity over the location of Athena, Mississippi's annual library fundraising gala, and Charlie would rather curl up in a corner than get into the fray.  It seems everyone - even his housekeeper Azalea - has it in for Vera.  And at the gala, she gives them good reason, with a public display of rancor aimed at anyone who gets in her way.

But those bitter words wind up being her last.  When Charlie discovers Azalea standing over Vera's dead body, it's up to him - with a little help from Diesel - to clear Azalea's name, and catch a killer before his last chapter is finished.


Charlie Harris is a librarian in Athena, Mississippi.  He’s also on the board of the Friends of the Library, and one night while they are having a meeting at his home, he is privvy to an unfortunate conversation between the Ducote sisters, grande dames of Athena society, and Vera Cassity, an upstart who aspires to their position.  Vera argued that her home, Ranelagh, would be the only one to hold the gala, as it had the largest dining room.  But An’gel Ducote was nothing if not astute and sharp-witted, and managed to convey the fact that it would be difficult to ask people for money if they weren’t having fun - and there was nothing fun about a sit-down dinner.  After this uncomfortable conversation, Vera left in a huff - once she realizes the rest of the board members agreed with the Ducotes.

But Vera isn’t about to give up easily - she goes so far as to threaten Charlie and even his boarder Justin, who is the recipient of a scholarship from Vera; and even Diesel, his Maine Coon cat..  It seems she really will stop at nothing to get her way.  Things get worse when Charlie’s housekeeper Azalea finds out she’s been in the house and threatens to quit if she shows up again - but won’t tell Charlie why she hates her as much as everyone else seems to do.

When the library gala is held and Vera shows her usual asperity, the Ducotes have one more trick up their sleeve to stop her in her tracks.  But when she storms off and Charlie later hears Azalea calling for help, he finds her locked in a room...with the body of Vera.  It appears she either fell or was pushed down the stairs, and Sheriff Tidwell sets his sight on Azalea as the murderer - if only to make her daughter, his deputy Kanesha Berry, uncomfortable and look bad to the public.

So Kanesha, who has always been aloof and professional towards Charlie, asks him to help clear her mother's name and find the true murderer.  She knows that Charlie has a knack for putting clues together, and since he's sure Azalea is innocent, agrees to help her.  But when Charlie starts digging into which person wanted Vera dead - and there were probably many - it comes down to who would be willing to commit murder in order to silence her forever...

I've read four books in this series, and at least this one had not only the murder to consider, but a subplot or two to keep things fairly interesting.  In this book Charlie's relationship with Helen is moving forward, along with those of his son and daughter's.  They don't take precedence over the murder, however; and that's how it should be.  We also learn a little bit more about Azalea's family, although nothing new on her dynamics with her own daughter.

All in all, I have to wonder if there's any vegetables grown in Mississippi aside from green beans.  They seem to have them with almost every meal (and on a side note, I detest them myself).  Maybe Azalea can introduce everyone to the pleasures of eating corn or peas - or even carrots once in a while.  I would also caution Sean to move out quickly, since every member of Charlie's household has been suspected in a murder case so far.  Just a thought...

Also, while Charlie might own a Maine Coon, he obviously doesn't know you can't give cats garlic.  It's toxic.  Yet he has no problem feeding this to his feline, while giving your cat a small amount of cheese won't hurt it.  Yes, many cats are lactose intolerant, but not all.  I'm a lifelong cat owner, and I've had plenty of cats that love cheese and it doesn't hurt them.  But garlic?  NEVER!

In the end, when the murderer was found out it seemed to me slightly extreme of this person since they really gained nothing at all from the deed that I could tell.  I would have liked to have seen a much better reason for the murder than what was given.  However, since I've already gone this far into the series I will probably proceed, since I've read much worse books and survived.  At least this was the best of the four so far, so there's hope yet.


More on Miranda James's Books:

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Murder on the Rocks (A Red Carpet Catering Mystery Book 5)

Author:  Shawn Reilly Simmons
Genre:  Mystery, Suspense

Hardcover; Trade Paperback; Digital Book
ISBN #:  9781635112993; 9781635112962
Henery Press Publishing
268 Pages
$31.93; $15.95; $4.99 Amazon
February 6, 2018


After surviving a brazen attack at one of her favorite local cafes, Penelope Sutherland is ready to escape the big city and head to her next film set.  She and her Red Carpet Catering Crew set up their kitchen on location in the tranquil mountains of Vermont.  But peace and quiet aren't on the menu.  It starts to get hot when a series of accidents befall the celebrity tennis pro consulting on the film.  Then mix in an uptight director, an isolated location, and a quirky bunch of locals with secrets of their own and that's a recipe for disaster.  Penelope soon suspects a connection between the cafe attack and the incidents on set, and you know what comes next.  She must uncover the truth before her goose gets cooked.


When Penelope Sutherland and her actress friend Arlena decide to have a quiet breakfast at a favorite outdoor cafe, they are joined by Penelope's friend Nadia, a tennis star.  Nadia is going to be a consultant on a new film Arlena is doing, and they think this is the perfect opportunity for the two to get to know each other.  But while everything at first seems to be fine, Penelope notices someone watching them from across the street.  And then suddenly things turn violent - a couple of teenagers in hockey gear start attacking the customers, in an obvious attempt to rob them.  Shaken by the attack and the fact that while she and Arlena are safe, Nadia has been slightly injured, and a friend is dead.

But there's no time to dwell on it - they need to be in Vermont to start filming.  When Penelope arrives, she's not expecting what's to come:  the director Jeremiah (and owner of the place where they're staying) is a somewhat New Age Eco-nightmare.  He's also expecting everyone to begin their day with meditation, not one of Penelope's strong points.

But then she sees the same man she saw outside the cafe, and she begins to think that someone on the crew might have a stalker; she's not dealing well with panic attacks since the incident occurred, and there's no way to reach the outside world except by driving halfway to town - which gives her the one link to her homicide detective boyfriend, Joey.

Penelope soon realizes that things aren't always what they seem, and with trying to keep Jeremiah happy and deal with her own problems, she discovers that something isn't right and someone close to her might be in more danger than she knows...

I really enjoyed reading this book, so much so that I read it in one setting.  I suppose I should explain what I meant about Jeremiah being an "Eco-nightmare".  It's all well and good to want to save the planet, we should all strive for that.  But to expect a hundred people to re-use dishes just isn't practical, especially when a crew of four are the ones who seem to be doing all the cleanup.  I didn't read of anyone else helping out, even though he mentioned 'many hands make quick work'.  Um, not his hands, for sure.  I felt Jeremiah should have hired his own dishwashers to do that much work - and the trade off with how many times you'd have to run a dishwasher to clean that many items just wouldn't be worth it.  It would take hours every night to clean that much.  (Let's face it, you can't put hundreds of items in one or two loads).  They'd have those two dishwashers - not commercial ones, by the way - running constantly, and there are Eco-friendly disposable tableware on the market.  (Sorry - I notice details).

But back to the story - there was plenty of suspense going on, with Penny for the most part cut off from the world and having to figure things out without the ready use of a computer or cell phone.  Her natural curiosity kept her involved in everything around her, from her friends to someone she recently met in town; and watching how she dealt with them, along with her own new found insecurities about what happened was definitely worth the read.

While Joey is trying to find out who's behind the robberies, he discovers another big problem at the police station that needs to be sorted out; and Penelope is trying to figure out who the man is who keeps showing up.  When she finally starts to realize what's going on, it's nearly too late, but Penny has always been able to think fast, which is probably her strongest suit. 

This series has always been quite entertaining, and this latest installment is no different.  The characters are fully dimensional, the plot is always believable, and the story is always realistic.  True to previous books, this one is a suspenseful journey to the truth, and a glimpse into Penny's mindset as she tries to deal with her own trauma.  It is done so well that one cannot help but feel sorry for her personally, and root for her as she handles sudden complications to her standard catering routine while she tries to please her host and get through the shoot.

When the ending comes, it is all convincing and well done; all our questions are answered admirable.  This was indeed a book worth reading, and Ms. Simmons has equaled any of the others she's written.  Highly recommended.


More on Shawn Reilly Simmons's Books:

Revenge Is Sweet (Vintage Sweets Mysteries Book 1)

Author:  Kaye George Genre:   Mystery Trade Paperback; Digital Book ISBN #:  9781516105434 Lyrical Underground 193 Pages $14.36; $3.9...