Friday, June 29, 2018

A Deadly Eclair (A French Bistro Mystery #1)

Author:  Daryl Wood Gerber
Genre:  Mystery

Hardcover; Paperback; Digital Book
ISBN #:  9781683313410; 9781683316046
Crooked Lane Books
368 Pages
$18.35; $15.99; $1.99 Amazon
November 7, 2017

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It's always been Mimi Rousseau's dream to open her own bistro, but it seems beyond her grasp since she's been chased back home to Nouvelle Vie in Napa Valley by her late husband's tremendous debt.  Until her best friend Jorianne James introduces her to entrepreneur Bryan Baker who invests in promising prospects.  Now, working the bistro and inn until she's able to pay it off and call it her own, Mimi is throwing the inn's first wedding ever.

The wedding will be the talk of the town, as famous talk show host Angelica Edmonton, daughter of Bryan's half-brother, Edison, has chosen the inn as her perfect venue.  Anxious, Mimi is sure things are going to turn south, especially when Edison gets drunk and rowdy at the out-of-towners' dinner, but by the evening, things begin to look up again.  That is until six AM rolls around, and Bryan is found dead at the bistro with an éclair stuffed in his mouth.  And the fingers point at Mimi, whose entire loan is forgiven in Bryan's will.

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Mimi Rousseau is excited that the opening of her bistro is going to host a celebrity wedding - the niece of the man who funded her endeavor, Brian Baker.  When the first evening gets underway everything seems to be going swimmingly; the guests love the food and everyone seems happy with their rooms.  But the next morning the bride-to-be, Angelica Barrington, knocks furiously on Mimi's door.  She's found her Uncle Brian dead on the patio.

When Mimi hastens to see for herself, she sees that Brian is indeed deceased and when the police arrive she also learns that her cell phone was found nearby with a message for Brian to meet her.  Mimi attempts to convince Detective Tyson Daly that someone must have lifted her phone from the kitchen and she didn't send it.  While Tyson is a friend of hers, without witnesses he still has to consider her the main suspect, especially when a notarized letter is found in Brian's effects that gives Mimi full ownership of the bistro and inn in the event of his death.

But when a witness does eventually come forth that can attest to her whereabouts and she is cleared of the crime, there is still the matter of a killer lurking somewhere on her premises and it could be any one of the numerous people who were told they can't leave until he or she is found.  With a hotel full of suspects and a wedding put on hold, Mimi wants the murder of her friend solved - and soon.

I liked the premise of this book and really wanted to love it.  Unfortunately, I didn't.  I just didn't like Mimi at all; and one really needs to like the main character in order to like the book.  She tells the investigating homicide detective - Tyson Daly, a friend from childhood - that's it's her civic duty to discover the killer, but no, it's not.  It's his duty.  I understand that we want our protagonist to discover the murderer; after all, that's why we read the books, but Mimi is out-and-out obnoxious to people.  She's a get-in-your-face type of person when she asks questions.  She asks people where they were, checks on their alibis, and then confronts them again and demands they tell her the truth - even when it angers them.  Does she not realize one of these people is a killer?  It's rather difficult to like a protagonist who acts like this.  She hounds people constantly - and tells them it's all in the name of wanting to find her mentor's killer.  But isn't that Tyson's job?

It's one thing to overhear conversations, it's entirely another to corner people and harass them until they start yelling at you and threatening you.  This isn't mere curiosity, as she says; just read the conversation she has with David Ives outside the store and you'll understand.  She's basically conducting her own police interrogation without actually being an officer or in an interrogation room in a police station.  This is irresponsible.

And what does Tyson do?  He doesn't spend his time working on the case - he goes over to his mother's home and works around there, etc.  I'm pretty sure detectives don't go looking at real estate while a case is ongoing.  This guy seems like he just went into the job to impress people with the fact; Mimi is doing all the work and we never saw him question a single person - he didn't even take anyone down to the station.

I didn't feel that any of the characters were fleshed out, so we couldn't become involved with them.  There was practically nothing about Tyson, Jo, etc.; and we didn't really get to know anything about any of them.  This, of course, can be remedied in future books, so we will see.

Also, (I hope this isn't going to be a trend in future books) but I really hate it when (as the author wrote toward the end of the book) political leanings are inserted.  The only time you should read about politics is when you're reading non-fiction or a book that deals with the subject.  Fiction authors shouldn't offer their personal feelings by adding characters that will eventually insert their political beliefs into the story.  Admittedly, it was only a paragraph or two, but I got the idea that this character will be recurring in future books.  Just my opinion. 

In the end, I felt the reason for the murder was flimsy; someone would definitely have to be unhinged in the first place to imagine what the killer imagined would eventually take place.  Obviously, they didn't trust in who they were or family members or they wouldn't have even have allowed this to cross their mind.  It just didn't seem like it was a strong enough reason for murder, so was a bit of a letdown.  But, as it is the first in the series, I will read the next to see if it improves.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Much Ado About Muffin (A Merry Muffin Mystery #4)

Author:  Victoria Hamilton
Genre:  Mystery

Mass Market Paperback; Audio CD; Digital Book
ISBN #:  9780425282588; 9781515950363
Berkley Publishing
304 Pages
$7.19; $25.20; $7.99 Amazon
August 2, 2016

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Opera singer Roma Toscano may have a crippling case of stage fright, but she certainly is stirring up drama in Autumn Vale, New York, as she prepares for an upcoming performance at Merry's Wynter Castle.  With her flamboyant style and flirtatious personality, Roma attracts fans as well as critics, including the town's postmistress - and Merry's bitter foe - Minnie Urquhart.

But Roma and Minnie's heated rivalry goes cold after Merry discovers Minnie dead at the post office.  While every clue seems to be another ingredient in the investigation of Roma, Merry thinks the case is half-baked, and she's eager to get her mitts on the real killer...

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Merry Wynter owns Wynter Castle in upstate New York.  She's been in Spain for a couple of months because her late husband's mother wanted to make peace with her (another story).  When she returns home she finds things changed.  Her beau Virgil meets her at the airport and is surly toward her; her roommate Pish has taken in a temperamental opera star - Roma Toscano - that Merry dislikes, her friend Emerald has been taken in by a cult-like personality and is pushing Merry away, and the rest of her friends are acting like she's been gone a year.

But when she's out with Virgil's mother Gogi and they discover the body of the local postmistress, who has been stabbed with a letter opener that Merry recognizes as being owned by Roma, rumors begin to fly.  Everyone thinks the diva committed the crime, but Merry isn't so sure and takes it upon herself to find the killer and set things about her to rights...

Well, this book was a bit of a disappointment.  Merry went to Spain for a couple of months to make peace with her late husband's mother, and enjoy a vacation of sorts, but when she returns home everyone treats her like the enemy.  I guess in the town of Autumn Vale no one is expected to take vacations.  After all, why would you want to go anywhere else?  You're a traitor if you leave the city!  I think these people need a reality check.

Also, when she gets back to her castle she finds that her live-in friend Pish hasn't been taking care of her cat.  He tells her that Becket went for longer and longer walks and just never showed back up.  This is supposed to be her "dearest friend."  I don't know about you, but my dearest friend would not allow my cats to disappear.  If Pish couldn't handle it, he should have told her before she left so she could have made other arrangements.  (Honestly, with not much training, Becket could become an exclusive indoor cat.  I've adopted several feral cats and they're all indoor cats now).  Also, before anyone gets the wrong idea, the coyotes of New York are not the same coyotes that live around my neck of the woods.  Western and Eastern are different in that those in upstate are hybrids - yet another reason to keep Becket indoors.

Then Pish just invites Roma to stay at the castle without asking Merry first.  Plus, Roma is a pig.  She leaves things lying around everywhere, and our spineless Merry doesn't tell her to clean up the mess or find a hotel.  She doesn't even tell Pish that he needs to tell Roma to clean up.  As a matter of fact, in this book it seemed as if Merry was the boarder and Pish owned the castle, because he did whatever he wanted and Roma walked around dramatically, and they practically took over the place.  What kind of friend is he?  He ignores her cat and invites someone to stay rent free who trashes the place, leaving her to do everything, including cooking for the ungrateful witch.  I'd send her out to eat every single meal.  I guess Merry had two divas to deal with.

Then there's the problem of Emerald being taken in by a cult-like person named Crystal who is living off of her and making Em go back to work in a dive bar, even disciplining Em's daughter Lizzie, and she allows her to do this.  Does anyone say anything?  No!  Not until Merry comes back and decides to investigate and discover things aren't adding up.

Plus, this is the place to go if you just want to leech off people - Roma is leeching off of Merry, Crystal is leeching off of Emerald, and even when Minnie (the postmistress) dies, no one goes to her house and tells the leeches there that they have to leave!  I'm sorry, but they should have been told to get out instead of acting like squatters.

I didn't understand why she had to go around town asking everyone to forgive her for taking a vacation.  Jealous, maybe?  Who does that?  'Gee, I'm sorry I went on a nice vacation.  Next time I'll just go camping in them there woods, okay?' 

In the end, the mystery was just okay; although it made sense, by that time I was already irritated by the people of this town and the fact that Pish isn't a very good friend after all.

https://www.amazon.com/Much-About-Muffin-Merry-Mystery/dp/0425282589/

Goodreads:  https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/2048704497

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

The Pint of No Return ( A Sloan Krause Mystery #2)

Author:  Ellie Alexander
Genre:  Mystery

Hardcover; Digital Book
ISBN #:  9781250108654
Minotaur Publishing
304 Pages
$26.99; $13.99 Amazon
October 2, 2018

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No other festival compares to Oktoberfest in Leavenworth, Washington.  The whole town is buzzing with excitement over this year's activities and eagerly awaiting Nitro's latest offering Cherrywizen, made with locally sourced cherries.  But local brewmaster Sloan Krause is tapped out.  Between trying to manage the pub, her pending divorce with Mac, and her mounting feelings for Garrett, she's fermenting in internal turmoil.

To complicate matters, dreamy movie star Mitchell Morgan and his production crew have arrived in the village to film during the authentic, Bavarian brewfest.  Mitchell has his eye on Sloan and a taste for Nitro's Cherrywizen.  Sloan escapes his advances for good when she finds Mitchell slumped over the bar.  Is this a case of one pint too many, or has Mitchell been murdered by microbrew?

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Sloan Krause is settling into her new job as a brewmaster for Garrett Strong, who owns Nitro, a nanobrewery that's new in town.  It's Oktoberfest, and they're excited about the business it will bring in.  They also soon discover that there's a film crew in town doing a documentary on breweries, and they want to feature Sloan, as a groundbreaking female brewmaster.  She agrees, thinking the exposure will be good for Nitro.

But once she sees the emcee of the documentary - Mitchell Morgan - she tries to distance herself.  He's an egomaniac and a jerk who delights in making everyone around him miserable.  But it's no fun when she comes across his body one evening with a broken growler from Nitro nearby.  While Sloan isn't considered a suspect, she knows that April Ablin, a town realtor and self-proclaimed "town representative" and Mitchell got the growler before they left the bar.

Still, there's a girl who shows up at the scene named Kat who accuses Sloan's friend Lisa of the murder but Sloan can't believe Lisa capable.  But what does she really know about Kat?  Not much; but she and Garrett hire her anyway on the off chance that she's telling the truth that she's stranded and has nowhere else to go.

With all of this, her soon-to-be ex-husband Mac is striving to get her back and it seems will go to any lengths to do so, including putting himself right where Sloan doesn't want him to be.  Now with a murderer on the loose, and Sloan wondering about Lisa and Kat, can she help track a killer before anyone else is in danger?  Or has she already gotten too close and the killer has their sights set on her?...

I liked this book better than the first, although there were a couple of things that bothered me.  One is how April said how she's going to make it a bylaw that everyone in town has to wear traditional German outfits - with the men in lederhosen and the women wearing dirndl dresses.  Um, no.  You can't force a private business to do what you want them to.  She can't force them to decorate their interior the way she wants, nor can she force a dress code on them.  Anyway, I can't see anyone in town being stupid enough to want to walk around in lederhosen all the time.  I wouldn't call her a nemesis, as Sloan does, I'd call her a complete moron.

Also, since when do bars (and a brewery is a bar) serve meat and cheese trays?  As I've stated before, I eat at breweries (Las Vegas has great food anywhere you go) but their menus consist of food that actually go well with beer:  burgers, pizza, sandwiches, wings, etc.  Never have I seen any - even in towns I've visited with friends - meat and cheese trays.  I would guess people who drink beer don't say, "hey, you know what I'd like right now?  A meat and cheese tray!"  Just a thought...

Also, it's fine to think of Mac's family as her own, but eventually she'll go onto another relationship, (hopefully with Garrett) and so will Mac as one can hope; since he cheated on her and she forgave him he pretty much got away with it, so he'll do it again if she takes him back.  What happens then?  Are they going to leave their respective spouses to go 'have a family day?'  Or bring them with?  That would be an uncomfortable scenario, and I can't even imagine my husband doing something like that if he had a previous spouse.  I wouldn't be happy about it.  She needs to think about who's been there for her every time she needed someone, and it wasn't Mac.  Don't get me wrong; I'm not saying cutting ties because of her son Alex (whom I like very much) and who deserves to be around his relatives, but if she spends too much time with them it's less likely she'll be able to forge a new relationship.

Aside from these things (sorry, I'm big on details) this was definitely a step up from the first in the series, although that one wasn't bad at all.  I liked the mystery much better in this one; there were plenty of suspects to sift through, and a few clues here and there.  Everything had a nice continuity and made it an easy read.

We're getting to know the characters a little bit more each time and that's always a good thing; there was enough characterization to keep things going.  While we didn't get a lot of insight on the town businesses and people this time - it was Oktoberfest, after all, and that took center stage - still there was a little more information on the brewing process as there was in the last book, which was interesting.

There was also a nice subplot on Sloan's origins which I imagine will be expanded on in future books, and also her feelings for Garrett are beginning to grow; he obviously cares about Sloan and I look forward to seeing how their relationship progresses.

In the end, there were enough twists and turns to keep everything moving along nicely, and when the murderer was unmasked, it came as a surprise, which is a good thing.  I truly enjoyed this book and look forward to the next in the series.  Recommended.

https://www.amazon.com/Pint-Return-Sloan-Krause-Mystery/dp/1250108659/

Goodreads:  https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/2437895573

More on Ellie Alexander's Books:  https://www.fantasticfiction.com/a/ellie-alexander/

Monday, June 25, 2018

Death on Tap (A Sloan Krause Mystery #1)

Author:  Ellie Alexander
Genre:  Mystery

Hardcover;  Digital Book
ISBN #:  9781250108630;
Minotaur Books
320 Pages
$16.21; $13.99 Amazon
October 3, 2017

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Sloan Krause has spent her life in Leavenworth, Washington, honing her brewing skills as the region's first female brewmaster - everyone in town agrees that she's got a nose for hops and a real talent for concocting delicious microbrews.  Ever since marrying into the Krause family and joining the cheery brewhaus they've owned for generations, she's had big plans to expand the family business by creating new, handcrafted German ales.  But when Sloan walks in on her husband, Mac, shagging the barmaid, she knows it's time to give him the boot.

With this recent, particularly unpleasant, turn of events, she decides to strike out on her own and take her brewing talents elsewhere.  Luckily, Nitro, the hip new nanobrewery in the Bavarian-themed town, sees her potential and hires her on the spot to help craft Northwest-inspired ales and to whip up a tasty new bar menu.  Nitro's owner, Garrett Strong, has the brew world abuzz with his newest recipe, Pucker-Up IPA.  His watering hole is the new cool place in town, and Mac can't help being green with envy at their success.

But just as Sloan is settling into her new gig she finds one of Nitro's competitors dead in a fermenting tank, clutching the secret recipe for the IPA.  When Mac is arrested, Sloan knows her her ex might be a cheater, but a murderer?  No way.  Danger is brewing in Beervaria and suddenly Sloan is on the case.
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Sloan Krause is a brewmaster at her husband's family's brewery, Der Keller.  On a day off, she decides to work anyway, and walks in on her husband while he's having sex with the new waitress.  She leaves and immediately throws him out of their home, then finds a new job at a rival brewery that has just started up.  Garrett Strong is a quiet man who keeps his cards close to his chest, but after tasting his new brew, Sloan realizes he knows what he's doing.

She's fairly happy in her new position, helping him with the menu and anything else that needs to be done.  But when they finally open for business, a rival brewmaster, Eddie, who is surly by nature seems even more so this evening, and it doesn't help that when Sloan arrives the next day she finds Eddie's body in one of the vats.

Seeing as how her husband's prints were on the vat, and his lighter was found near the body, he's arrested for the murder.  But Sloan knows that even though he cheated on her, he's no murderer, and she's decided to try and find out who might have wanted the rival brewmaster dead.  If she doesn't, Mac will be railroaded for the crime, and leave her son without a father, which she isn't willing to do...

First off, even though the blurb states it, Eddie was not found with the recipe in his hand.  In fact, that tidbit - where it was found and by whom it was taken - wasn't even mentioned until much later in the book.  Just getting it straight.

Anyway, this book was fine for a first effort, but I found a few things that bothered me.  All Sloan does is drink beer, but no mention is made that she even has any kind of a "beer belly."  Not even a little "pooch."  People who drink beer constantly - and she doesn't go to a gym to work out - would have some physical traits if they didn't do something about it.  She drinks a lot of beer.  In fact, that's all anyone drinks in this town.  She gets stressed, someone hands her a pint of beer.  There's a lot of stress in her life.  Point made.  She mentions once that her husband Mac is starting to get a belly, but never even mentions anything about herself - even though we never see Mac take a drink.

Secondly, she makes food for Nitro but I have issues with that.  She pulls chicken out of her fridge and cooks kebabs - for how many people?  A hundred?  Two?  How many chicken breasts did she have in there?  40 or 50?  Because ten or so kebabs is not going to feed all the people that showed up for opening night.  And it would take a long time to cook for that many people than what she supposedly did.  (Who keeps that much food at home, anyway, on the off chance they might have to cook for that many people?)

Plus, she only makes things with beer.  Who eats cupcakes, shortbread, and brownies made with beer?  And since when are they served at a brewery?  Personally, I don't drink, but I eat at a brewery or two in town, and they've never had common desserts like that at a bar.  Who would buy a cupcake or cookies at a bar?  This didn't ring true.  Maybe a fancy chocolate cake (three layers, heavy frosting) or a streudel (which would be more in line with a brewery) but not shortbread.  Never shortbread - unless the breweries of Washington have no imagination and the diners are willing to pay $5 for a brownie.  I don't see it.  (Or maybe I just eat at upscale breweries that don't serve food you can buy at any convenience store in town).

I also see that we're probably at the beginning of (ho hum) another love triangle.  Her husband cheated on her; and since she forgave him, he'll probably do it again.  The best she can do is cut her losses and tell him goodbye.  Honestly, I abhor love triangles, and if it goes that way in the second book, I am done with the series - especially since he cheated on her.  Honestly, I am so tired of books that have love triangles.  In real life, women don't usually have two boyfriends hanging around; and if the situation were reversed and this were a man with two women, you'd think him no better than a gigolo.  Garrett is obviously the better man - look at what he did when she was at the hospital.

The book was a light on the mystery and heavy on brewing information.  The brewing information wasn't boring, I'm not saying that at all; but I didn't think the mystery was all that interesting.  Yes, we had a dead body, and yes, we were finding out who wanted to commit the crime, but I didn't see that any of the suspects had a real reason to kill him.  Just breaking up with someone isn't enough to want them dead, in my book.  Any there was no real investigation going on by anyone.

Most of the book was on Sloan trying to help get Garrett's business off the ground, and worrying about Mac's family and how they were dealing with things.  It was okay, but not engrossing in any way.  They aren't that interesting of a family.  The parents are lovable, I get it; but they handled the brewery long before Sloan arrived and she should allow them the benefit of the doubt.  The book wasn't supposed to be about Mac's family, but that's what I felt it was about.

Anyway, it was fine for a first in the series book, but not anywhere near the I-can't-wait-to-read-the-next-in-the-series feeling I like to get from a book.  However, I will read the second and see if it improves at all...or if we have, as I said, a love triangle - which will end the series for me.   

Friday, June 22, 2018

Death of an English Muffin (Merry Muffin Mystery #3)

Author:  Victoria Hamilton
Genre:  Mystery

Mass Market Paperback; Audio CD; Digital Book
ISBN #:  9780425258859; 9781515950356
Berkley Publishing
304 Pages
$7.19; $24.99; $7.99 Amazon
July 7, 2015

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They say one's home is one's castle, but when it comes to Wynter Castle, Merry would like it to belong to someone else.  But until a buyer bites, she could use some extra dough, so she decides to take in renters.  The idea pans out, and Merry's able to find a handful of tenants eager to live in a real castle.  The only problem is most of them are crumby, tea-swilling old biddies.

The Legion of Horrible Ladies, as Merry calls them, is led by the terribly nasty - and fabulously wealthy - Cleta Sanson.  The abrasive Englishwoman keeps everyone whipped into a frenzy - until she meets an embarrassing end behind a locked door.  Evidence reveals that Cleta was murdered, yet non one is privy to how the deed was done.  Merry knows she must quickly find the killer before another of her guests gets greased...

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Merry Wynter inherited Wynter Castle from her late uncle, and has decided to temporarily take in renters.  When her friend Pish says his aunt wants to stay, Merry is delighted.  But Aunt Lush shows up with a group of four other women - all well-to-do, whom Merry has termed the Legion of Horrible Ladies.  Now Merry's stuck with a demanding group of older women who don't seem to want to leave, and one of them - Cleta Sanson - outdoes all the others with her nasty barbs against others.  But since she's paid for the time, Merry's stuck with her or faces a lawsuit.

When Cleta is found dead it's at first considered natural circumstances.  But the coroner discovers that Cleta was murdered, and since the likely suspects are all staying at the castle, Merry doesn't want a murderer under her roof and does a little investigating on her own, hoping one of them will let something slip that leads her to the killer...

I was really hoping that this book, the third in the series, would improve over the last but it was not to be.  A lot of the book rehashed the characters from other books and it got tiresome hearing how what a good friend Pish was.  As a matter of fact, we really didn't get to know anything about most the guests, so never got to connect with them.  As far as the locals go, I can't in all honesty like Juniper, who doesn't listen to her employer and is mouthy; nor Emerald, who seems to have "found religion" of a sort and spouts it to Merry every chance she gets.  That's annoying in itself.

I also didn't feel the connection between Merry and Virgil.  I get that they're interested in each other, but there's no spark at all.  They seem to be just two people who sort of leeched onto one another for lack of better prospects around.  I also wondered about Merry's age.  When the books began she was thirty-nine, but now it's less than a year later and she's 'almost' forty-two?  How fast do people age in this town?  Some people even age backwards.  In the first book, Hannah mentions how she's thirty (stated "Binny left when Hannah was fifteen so it must have been fifteen years ago"); but now she's in her twenties.  Curious, indeed.

Of all the characters, I disliked Lauda as much as Cleta.  She was pushy, annoying, and rude; and we're supposed to believe she was the poor put-upon niece.  If I were Merry, I would have just handed her a refund check and told her to hightail it off my land.  I wouldn't put up with a rude, nasty person like that.  She really wasn't much different than her aunt and all Merry did was trade one for the other.  In Lauda's case, though, she could have removed her from the premises.  There's also something said to Lauda that pertains to the murder which didn't make sense to me because it would have to be proven in order to be valid.

I also didn't get why Merry would allow five people (plus herself, Pish, and assorted employees) to live at her home and cook for each and every one of them.  Just because someone is paying you rent doesn't mean you're responsible for all their meals.  I've yet to see a landlord provide meals to all their tenants (if people are staying for months you in effect become a landlord, not an innkeeper) three times a day.  Maybe breakfast, but send those people out to eat.  Not to mention the recipes in the back are horrendous - Chicken Spaghetti?  Bacon and Peanut Butter Muffins?  (What is it with the bacon muffins?  She had bacon muffins in the first book, too).  Just my opinion on the recipes, though...

Anyway, as you can tell I wasn't enthralled with this book.  It was merely average as far as cozies go.  There was nothing to make it stand out and even when Merry discovers a little bit more about her father's family in each book, it's not really interesting enough to make me care anything about any of them, Merry included.  She's got a rather morose type of personality, lamenting about one thing or another all the time.  At least she's beginning to change a little bit toward the end of the book, so that's a good thing.

At the end, while I didn't feel we were given any clues as to who the murderer was, it was satisfactory and everything came out alright.  As I said, this is fine for a mystery and can be read in a few hours or so.

https://www.amazon.com/Death-English-Muffin-Merry-Mystery/dp/0425258858/

Goodreads:  https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/2432370851

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

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Bran New Death (A Merry Muffin Mystery #1)

Author:  Victoria Hamilton
Genre:  Mystery

Mass Market Paperback; Digital Book
ISBN #:  97804252588352
Berkley Publishing
305 Pages
$6.39; $7.99 Amazon
September 3, 2013

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Merry is making a fresh start in small-town Autumn Vale, New York, in the castle she's inherited from her late uncle, Melvyn.  The house is run down and someone has been digging giant holes on the grounds, but with its restaurant-quality kitchen, the place has potential for her new baking business.  She even has her first client - the local retirement home.

Unfortunately, Merry soon finds that quite a few townsfolk didn't like Uncle Mel, and she has inherited their enmity as well as his home.  Local baker Binny Turner and her crazy brother, Tom, blame Melvyn for their father's death, and Tom may be the one vandalizing her land.  But when Tom turns up dead in one of the holes in her yard, Merry needs to prove she had nothing to do with his death - or her new muffin-making career may crumble before it starts...

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Merry Wynter inherited her Uncle Melvyn's castle in upstate New York.  While it needs a lot of work, she decided to do just enough to get it sold.  But when she arrived she saw giant holes all over the property.  With the help of her real estate agent, Jack McGill, who has volunteered to fill in the holes, and the arrival of her best friend Shilo, Merry is determined to make it work.

But what she doesn't count on is the people in town didn't much seem to care for her uncle, nor do they care for her.  Trying to make friends isn't going to be easy.  At least the local sheriff's mother Gogi,  who runs a retirement home, has hired her to make muffins for the residents - if she can get a license to do so; but at least it's a start.  But when Gogi asks her to look into Melvyn's accident, Merry is surprised.  Gogi thinks it was murder, and Merry reluctantly agrees to do so.

But it isn't going to be easy, especially since she's identified the person responsible for the holes and he later turns up dead in one of them.  Now, since she was seen threatening him and it was on her property, Merry begins to wonder if Gogi isn't right.  Two people are dead.  How many more will there be unless she can find out the truth?...

For the most part, I enjoyed this little mystery of a woman who has left a nightmare of a job - and the rumors surrounding the reason she left - to move to a little hamlet that might welcome her.  But instead she finds more rumors - this time surrounding her uncle and his death.  And when a local man is found dead on her property, she soon becomes embroiled in the murder mystery.

Yet with the help of her best friend and a local real estate agent, she's beginning to unravel things that someone has worked very hard to keep hidden, and it soon she realizes that her uncle might indeed have been murdered.

But what I didn't like was the fact that the local sheriff - who at first seemed to like her (and I am sure that will grow in other books) - could actually think she committed a murder, left town, and came back to get someone to 'find the body.'  Why do I say this?  It's not really a spoiler, but there is a scene where Lizzie finds a camp on Merry's property, and when she leads Merry to it later, inside the tent is a body.  The body has been there awhile and I assume is decomposing (because this person was missing before Merry even arrived in Autumn Vale).  Yet Sheriff Grace asks Lizzie if Merry led her to the body instead of the other way around.  How much sense does that make?  Merry would have to arrive unknown to anyone, wander around the woods, find the camp, kill someone, then leave town (again without anyone seeing her) and come back and act like she didn't know what was going on.  Especially since when she arrived in town she didn't know where the castle was and had to ask the sheriff for directions.  Really?   If the sheriff believes even for a minute that Merry killed someone, she shouldn't have anything to do with him.  The author could have done better than this if she thought about it.  Plus, Merry herself doesn't seem all that sharp on the uptake.

Then there's the ho-hum factor.  It's the fact that it's always the same: the protagonist arrives to a new place from whatever she's running from, and never has any money.  Never.  She always arrives on the edge of bankruptcy.  Just once I'd like to see her get where she's going with a healthy bank account.  I'm so tired of reading about women who are struggling just to get by and have to start a new life.  This time it's because she blew her money in the stock market.  As I said, Merry doesn't seem to be all that sharp on the uptake.

Anyway, when all is said and done, it was written pretty well, and I liked several of the characters.  I'm hoping in the next book Merry will discover that her uncle left a little money tucked away for her, but we will see.

We don't know a whole lot about Merry except the fact that her husband passed away seven years ago.  They were married two years, and he's been gone over three times that length of time, but she still hasn't moved on.  It sounds harsh, but they weren't married that long, and while her memories are all good, even some of those would start to fade over that amount of time; yet she keeps mourning her loss, and that's why she can't move on.  I would have liked to have a bit more of a physical description than just she used to be a 'plus-sized' model.

At the last, there are a couple of recipes in the back that were just okay.  (I would rather have had the recipe for the carrot muffins instead of bacon, which I'll never make).  Other than this, it was an average mystery that can be read in one evening.

https://www.amazon.com/Bran-Death-Merry-Muffin-Mystery/dp/0425258831/

Goodreads:  https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/2431298248

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

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Plaster Sinners (A Flaxborough Mystery #11)

Author:  Colin Watson
Genre:  Mystery

[Hardcover; Paperback;] Digital Book
ISBN #:  9780385173384; 9780413516701
Farrago Publishing
160 Pages
[Various Prices]; $3.99 Amazon
July 12, 2018 (Reissue)

✮✮✮✮


Sergeant Love is a sucker for a picturesque country cottage.  

But he finds himself quite literally knocked out by the little bas-relief plaster cottage that's on display at Flaxborough's antiques auction.  This pretty but rather crudely painted trinket mysteriously sells for hundreds of pounds having sparked a heated bidding war, while the Sergeant gets floored by a would-be cottage thief.

So DI Purbright, teamed up with a world-weary brother officer down from London, must dig deep into the dubious past of the local gentry, the laconic Moldhams, in their crumbling stately pile, to find out how the little plaster picture leads to a tale of heirlooms and murder.

✽✽✽✽✽✽✽✽


Sergeant Sidney Love has some time before he's scheduled to go to work, so he stops at an auction.  While there he sees a box of supposed junk items, and among them is a plaster cast of a little cottage.  Sergeant Love thinks his young lady would enjoy this, and he's decided to bid on the lot.  But while standing there he doesn't notice the man right behind him, the one who has a heavy doorknob in his hand.  He also doesn't notice when the man hits him in the back of the head with the knob, sending him straight to the floor.

While unconscious, the man attempts to remove the plaster picture from Sid's hands, which are underneath his body, but is unable to do so.  Upon waking, he realizes that no one has seen anyone about.  An ambulance is sent for, and they don't take him seriously when he tells him he's a police officer nor that some unknown person hit him.

While at the hospital, he is visited by Detective Inspector Purbright, who takes the matter very seriously.  After getting the details from Sergeant Love, he decides to visit the auction himself and tells someone there that they are not to release the contents of this lot, regardless of the purchaser.  He is surprised when the bidding tops nearly 400 pounds.

Once he discovers who the fingerprints on the knob belong to, things get even more interesting.  And when a detective inspector from London arrives because he knows of the attacker, the story becomes even more bizarre as they start digging into the origins of the box of rubbish.  When a body turns up in the river that is connected to the case, Purbright finds that he now has a murder on his hands as well...

This book is another delightful entry in the Flaxborough Chronicles written by Colin Watson.  It is quite as involved as all the others, and we are given bits and pieces throughout the story that all eventually connect to each other.  Purbright is always enjoyable to read about and I love the methods he uses while solving a case.

We follow Purbright and crew as they dig into the reasons why anyone would be interested in a cheap plaster cast of a cottage.  What we come away with is the fact that all is not what it seems, and someone was - and still is - willing to do whatever it takes to keep the cottage in the hands it was intentionally meant for.

The mystery itself was a tight one, with all the threads weaving together nicely at the end.  It is always fascinating to see the means people will go to in order to keep their secrets hidden, and makes me grateful that I will never know any like this group of miscreants.  Recommended.

https://www.amazon.com/Plaster-Sinners-Flaxborough-Mystery-Watson-ebook/dp/B07C92MWWX/

Goodreads:  https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/2430202320

More on Colin Watson's Books:  https://www.fantasticfiction.com/w/colin-watson/

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Looming Murder (A Weaving Mystery #1)

Author:  Carol Ann Martin
Genre:  Mystery

Mass Market Paperback; Digital Book
ISBN #:  9780451413604
Obsidian Mystery
336 Pages
$7.99; $7.99 Amazon
June 4, 2013

✮✮✮



Della Wright has come to peaceful and picturesque Briar Hollow, at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains, to realize her lifelong dream of owning a weaving studio.  To promote her new business, Dream Weaver, Della is offering weaving workshops for all levels of ability.  In her first class, she meets a half dozen of the town's colorful characters, who seem as eager to gossip as to learn how to work a loom.

But when a shady local businessman is found murdered, Briar Hollow suddenly appears a lot less idyllic.  And when one of her weaving students is suspected of the crime, Della can't help getting entangled in the investigation - with some help from her criminologist friend, Matthew.  But can she weave together clues as well as she weaves together yarn - and stop a killer from striking again?

✽✽✽✽✽✽✽✽

Della Wright has switched homes with her childhood friend Matthew, due to a scandal at her workplace where she was once suspected of embezzling but was cleared when it was discovered that the culprit was in actuality her boss.  She's decided to pursue her dream of a weaving studio where she will also sell her wares.  But in order to get it off the ground, her first step is in offering classes.

The people who show up are an assorted group who seem interested.  She discovers that one of them - David Swanson - has no desire to learn to weave, but is doing so as part of community service, and they're making baby blankets for charity.  She also learns he's a real estate agent, which comes in handy when she finds out things didn't work out as planned for Matthew and he's returning home.

When David is showing her a place she's interested in, they come across the reason for his community service:  Jeremy, a man he'd recently had an argument with.  To make it worse, the man is with David's ex-wife, part of the reason for the argument.  They leave abruptly, and later on David asks her if she's still interested in seeing the building.  When Della agrees and they enter the apartment above the store they both get a surprise:  Jeremy's body, covered in blood.  In her haste to leave Della takes a tumble and sprains her ankle.

While the police think David is the murderer, Della's not so sure and offers up the help of Matthew and resolves to find the killer.  But in doing so will she be endangering her own life or the life of someone she cares about?...

I enjoyed this book to an extent, but there were some things that stopped me.  For instance:  Della sprains her ankle and the head cop Mike tells another officer to take her to the hospital.  Why?  There was an ambulance right there for Jeremy that they didn't need when it was discovered he was dead - but they send it away.  Wouldn't it have been easier just to send her in the ambulance?

Secondly, she was a financial adviser but is lacking in cash.  Why didn't she have a savings account?  I really tire of reading these books where the protagonist always has a nice career but never has any money.  Why is she broke?  It doesn't make any sense.  Was she dumping all her cash into her condo?  Why keep the job if you're only making enough to make ends meet?  (She's not working at a convenience store; she has a career that should pay a decent wage - just once I'd like to read a book where the woman actually knows how to manage money and has a healthy bank account when she starts a new business).  It actually doesn't make any sense to start a new business if you don't have any money, if you think about it.

Then there's the fact that she likes Matthew and Matthew likes her.  They're 35 and 37 years old, but are pussyfooting around like teenagers.  They have romantic feelings but won't act on them and it comes off as rather ridiculous and because of this misunderstandings ensue.

Also because of this Matthew moves in with Jenny (temporarily, I gather).  Supposedly it was pivotal to the plot point, but it didn't have to be.  Things could have progressed exactly the same with him living in his own house.  I do recall that he mentioned Della should stay in his spare bedroom anyway, so it didn't make sense to me.

Aside from this, I also didn't get a feeling about the type of person Della was or what she or Matthew looked like.  The author made a point of describing everyone coming to the weaving class, but all we learned about Della is that she's short.  There's nothing about her personality to make anyone connect with her, either.  She doesn't cook which seems odd since she's in her thirties; I mean, honestly, why do all these women never know how to cook?  They should at least be able to make the basics - meat loaf, pork chops, roasts, etc.; those are not difficult things to do.  No one is expecting them to make Bouillabaisse.

As you can see, I wasn't enthralled by the characters, but it wasn't a terrible book, either.  It was fairly on the average scale.  I'm hoping the next in the series will be better.  In the end, when the murderer was discovered, it seemed rather ho-hum; it was a different conclusion than the usual which is the reason I give it three stars. 

https://www.amazon.com/Looming-Murder-Carol-Ann-Martin/dp/0451413601/

Goodreads:  https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/2429254568

More on Carol Ann Martin's Books:  https://www.fantasticfiction.com/m/carol-ann-martin/

Monday, June 18, 2018

Bed Bugs (A Haskell Blevins Mystery #1)

Author:  Taylor McCafferty
Genre:  Mystery

Paperback
ISBN #:  9780671754686
Pocket Books
256 Pages
Various Prices
May 1, 1993

✮✮


First came Ruta Lippton, owner of the Curl Crazee hair salon, who said her house was "broken-and-entered."  Winslow Reed, an ex-nerd who was now married to ex-cheerleader June Jacoby, told the same story.  Both Winslow and Ruta lived in the fancy new subdivision called Twelve Oaks, and both claimed the sheriff wasn't taking them seriously, on account of how nothing had actually been stolen.  Last came nasal-voiced, horse-faced Phyllis Carver.  Nothing was missing from her place, either, but then poor Phyllis didn't have much to take.

I was shocked when June and Ruta suddenly called me off the case.  But shock didn't begin to describe how I felt when I headed back out to Phyllis's and found her shot dead.  Near her body was a scrap of paper with a single number seven scrawled on it, which, as clues went, was pretty pitiful.  Then, while I was waiting for the sheriff, I found the three tape recorders.  One still had a tape in it - a recording of Phyllis's husband Orval and a woman who definitely was not Phyllis.  In bed.  Having a real good time.  That made Orval a prime suspect, but I still didn't know what them other two tape recorders were doing in Phyllis's kitchen cupboard, and what the heck Phyllis meant by that number seven...

✽✽✽✽✽✽✽✽


When Haskell Blevins is first approached by Ruta Lippton, and then Winslow Reed, they both have the same story.  Someone broke into their homes and took...nothing.  They both want the case solved as soon as possible, but without fingerprints and without a crime being committed, how is he supposed to solve it?  No wonder the sheriff didn't take them seriously.

But since they paid in advance, he tells them he'll do his best.  Then Phyllis Carver shows up with the same story.  But where Phyllis lives isn't nearly as nice, and she doesn't have much of anything.  Yet when Ruta and Winslow's wife June both call to tell Haskell to keep the money and they don't need him anymore, he gets a little suspicious.  Enough to call Phyllis - who isn't answering her phone.  And when he drives out to her house he finds her dead, shot in the back.  Who would want to kill her?  And what is with the three tape recorders - with only one of them with a tape in it?

When Phyllis's sister Imogene arrives at the home she singles Haskell out and hires him to find out who killed her sister...after informing him as to what was on the missing tapes, and what Phyllis was doing with them.  But when Haskell's office is trashed, he wonders just how far someone will go to get them back...

Well, I was hoping (again) that this series would improve.  It didn't.  In fact, it regressed.  While the plot was interesting enough, there were questions (again) that were never answered, and animal cruelty (again) that could have - and should have - been avoided.  So far, this author has tortured and/or killed animals in two out of three books.  I shudder to think what the last three in this series will bring, and honestly, I'm not going to waste my time reading them to find out.  There is no reason at all in a fairly harmless mystery (no blood or gore) why animal cruelty should enter the equation.  It really makes me wonder (again) if the author just dislikes animals altogether.

Anyway, Haskell himself acts like a teenage girl, wondering through the entire book why one person or another has more of a love life than he does.  He bemoans the fact that he was slightly more popular in high school than Winslow, so how did he wind up with a cheerleader wife while poor Haskell (who compares himself to Howdy Doody) spends his night loveless.  Honestly?

This man, who was a homicide detective in Louisville and is now a private investigator, hasn't been able to find one single woman in town who finds that fact interesting and would like to know more about him?  Okay, admittedly he comes off as having the I.Q. of a turnip - I mean, really, he can't see the forest for the trees until he practically runs into one, and he suspects everyone of committing the crime instead of looking for the most likely person - but probably because he's more worried about someone else's ability to get women while he can't get them to even notice him.

But what ticked me off the most is what I've put in a spoiler below and contains references to the killer's actions, so please don't read on if you don't want to know:



Anyway, if you've read the spoiler than you can see why I've rated this book so low.  I'm not sure if I'll continue with this series or not.

https://www.amazon.com/Bed-Bugs-Mccafferty/dp/0671754688/

Goodreads:  https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/2428077518

More on Taylor McCafferty's Books:  https://www.fantasticfiction.com/m/barbara-taylor-mccafferty/

Ruffled Feathers (A Haskell Blevins Mystery #2)

Author:  Taylor McCafferty
Genre:  Mystery

Paperback
ISBN #:  9780671728038
Pocket Books
224 Pages
Various Prices
May 1, 1992

✮✮✮


Back in high school. Priscilla Vandeventer once decked a guy for calling her "Skinny."  Well Priss wasn't skinny anymore - she was downright curvy - but she was as hot-tempered as ever.  She made it perfectly clear she didn't want a bodyguard - not even me, Haskell Blevins, Pigeon Fork's one and only private eye.  Her father, old Jacob Vandeventer - the poultry millionaire - had hired me after receiving a note demanding $100,000 in return for Priscilla's safety.  Trouble was, no one had actually kidnapped Priss - yet.

Matter of fact, I was beginning to think Priss herself had sent the note to make Jacob sit up and take notice.  It was plain to see that Priss was overworked and underappreciated at Vandeventer Poultry, all on account of being a woman.  Then someone bashed Jacob in the head with his prized bronze chicken statue, and stuck a knife in his chest, and I didn't know whether Priss was my client or my number one suspect...

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When Jacob Vandeventer shows up at Haskell Blevin's office one day and tells him that he needs him to protect his daughter from a possible kidnapper, Haskell accepts the case.  But protecting Priss isn't going to be easy, because she doesn't want him anywhere near her.  But stay around he does, and it isn't long before not only is Priss not kidnapped, her father is found dead in his office, stabbed and bludgeoned with a bronze chicken.

While the suspect list narrows down - namely to it being Priss's mother Ruby - and Priss insists her mother couldn't kill anyone, Haskell has his doubts.  But then the stakes are suddenly raised when it appears that they don't want Haskell to find out the truth, even if it means he's the next to go...

I don't really think I had high hopes for this book after reading the first one (and I didn't like all the animal cruelty and death in that one) but I did have hopes that the author would find another subject, so I decided to read it.  It's not one of the best I've read, but then again it's not one of the worst ones, either.

While I think the author was trying to make Haskell sound like a good ol' country boy come back home to his roots, he really comes off as a yokel.  I mean, she describes him as looking like Howdy Doody (it was a television show many years ago with a red-headed cowboy puppet).  I have a hard time believing that someone who looked like that would have made a decent homicide detective.  How could they investigate cases if people were constantly staring at the person because of their looks?  Homicide detectives need to have, shall we say, a presence that makes people tell them things, and let me tell you, I wouldn't be spilling my guts to someone who resembled a kid's cartoon.

Anyway, the plot itself is pretty decent, and the book was better than the first one, but we were left with a lot of unanswered questions about what had been going on in the book, and I really hate the fact that the author didn't tie up loose ends or let the reader know certain things that had been hinted at throughout the book.

The subplot of Haskell's dog Rip terrorizing the neighborhood might have been funny if it weren't so ridiculous.  No two dogs look exactly alike.  So they weighed the same amount?  Had the exact same markings?  The neighbor - who must have known about Rip's "little problem" before this suddenly believed it was miraculously cured?  Yeah, sure. 

As you can tell, I wasn't thrilled with this, but I still hold out hope that the author will improve with the third book in the series.

https://www.amazon.com/Ruffled-Feathers-Haskell-Blevins-Mysteries/dp/0671728032/

Goodreads:  https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/2428037317

More on Taylor McCafferty's Books:  https://www.fantasticfiction.com/m/barbara-taylor-mccafferty/

Friday, June 15, 2018

Secrets, Lies, & Crawfish Pies (A Romaine Wilder Mystery #1)

Author:  Abby Vandiver
Genre:  Mystery

Hardcover; Trade Paperback; Digital Book
ISBN #:  9781635113495; 9781635113464
Henery Press Publishing
266 Pages
(Prices to Come on HC/PB) $2.99 Amazon
June 12, 2018

✮✮



Romaine Wilder, big-city medical examiner with a small-town past, has been downsized and evicted.  With few other options, she's forced to return to her hometown of Roble in East Texas, leaving behind the man she's dating and life she's worked hard to build.

Suzanne Babet Derbinay, Romaine's Auntie Zanne and proprietor of the Ball Funeral Home, has long since traded her French Creole upbringing for Big Texas attitude.  She's a member in a number of ladies' auxiliaries and clubs, including being in charge of the Tri-County Annual Crawfish Boil and Music Festival.

Hanging on to the magic of her Louisiana roots, she's cooked up a love potion or two -- if she could only get Romaine to drink it.  But her plans are derailed when the Ball Funeral Home, bursting at the seams with dead bodies, has a squatter stiff.

Dead guy is a problem.

Auntie Zanne can't abide by a murderer using her funeral home as the dumping grounds for their crimes, and Romaine doesn't want her newly elected cousin, Sheriff Pogue Folsom, to fail on his first murder case.  Together Romaine and Auntie Zanne set off to solve it.

With a dash of humor, a dollop of Southern charm, and a peek at current social issues in the mix, it's a fun romp around East Texas to solve a murder mystery of the cozy kind.

✽✽✽✽✽✽✽✽

Romaine Wilder has lost her job in a Chicago hospital and forced to return home to Roble, Texas, to live with her Aunt Zanne (Babet) at the family funeral home.  She isn't happy but is convinced it's only temporary so is going to make it work.

The moment they return home they see a family friend, Josephine Gail, out on the lawn in the rain babbling about a dead body.  Well, it is a funeral home, of course - but the dead body doesn't belong there.  No one seems to know who it is or how he got there.  When Romaine does a quick check, she can't find any reason why he should be dead in the first place, but will know more after an autopsy.  When it's discovered how he was murdered and who he was, then her cousin Sheriff Pogue Folsum has his work cut out for him trying to find out who murdered the man.

Standing in his way is Zanne, who is trying to make his job harder and Romie's life miserable while she decides she's going to find a killer who had the nerve to leave an unwanted body in her funeral home...

First off, I wanted to like this book as I thought it had a good premise.  But there were so many questions I had to ask:  I don't understand how she's a medical examiner but couldn't find a job anywhere in Chicago?  That didn't make sense to me.  A good doctor can always find a job, and in Chicago, where there are so many deaths, (just read the news) we're supposed to believe that not even one medical facility would need a good examiner?

Also, she doesn't have any money that was mentioned so she couldn't find her own place to live, and doesn't own a vehicle.  Even if you take the El, you'd still need a car to get some places - yet she took the train back home instead of driving.  Why didn't she have a vehicle?  Why hadn't she saved enough money to stay in Chicago until she found a job?  Surely a doctor would be making a decent wage, government job or not.

Then, Pogue must know that Josephine Gail suffers from depression, so the first thing he does after Zanne leaves the room is accuse her of murdering the man and demanding she tell him how she did it.  And our spineless friend Romie just sits there and allows him to attack her like that.  He didn't ask to see the list of bodies delivered, nor did he even think to ask who brought the bodies but instead asked a woman in her seventies how she committed murder.  Seriously?  He's known this woman his whole life, and he believes her to be capable of murder?  This is a serious plot hole.

But the worst character is Zanne, and the reason I didn't give the book a higher rating.  I believe she's supposed to be feisty, but she just comes off as pompous and mean-spirited.  (When she said Romaine looked just like her, I cringed.  While it was supposed to be funny, who wants to be compared to an eighty-two-year-old woman and said they resembled her, especially if they're half her age).  Plus, she's an aunt, not a mother, so they might not resemble each other at all.  And sorry to say, Zanne, you won't have grandkids - she's your niece, even if you raised her; not your daughter.

Perhaps these things wouldn't bother me so much if she weren't so insane, and not in a good way.  She's certifiable.  She keeps telling Romaine she's staying in Roble knowing she's unhappy to be there; telling her she's going to run the funeral home knowing she doesn't want to; telling her she'll find her a husband and have kids - well, you get the idea.  This is not funny nor quirky.  I doubt any reader would want to be treated this way by any relative. A good aunt who's raised you will support you in thick and thin, allow you to live your own life, be there when you need to talk, and not try and run your life - just like a good mother.  Zanne is none of these things, and therefore unlikable.

All I could think about was Romaine needed to get out of there fast, especially after Zanne told her how making crawfish pies were more important than an autopsy (basically 'what I want is more important than what you want); and demanded she be allowed to sit in on said autopsy.  Um, no.  So what if she has to ready the body for burial?  What does that have to do with an autopsy; and in her business, she should already be aware she can't sit in on them.  I doubt if there's a pathologist in the country who allows funeral directors to watch them work.  Unfortunately, all this did was give the impression that Zanne was a pushy woman who demanded the world revolve around her and what she wanted.  (Since when does a crawfish festival take precedence over a murder victim?

Also unfortunately, Romaine is everything I dislike in a woman - a spineless person who bends to the will of others instead of standing up for herself.  That she was waiting for her friends to find her a job instead of trying to find another one herself tells you all you need to know.  Even the crawfish had more backbone than she did.  I'm not saying she shouldn't be respectful of Zanne; but being respectful and allowing someone to push you around and tell you what you are going to do with your life are two different things.

I really struggled with this review because while I understand this is the first in the series and probably needs work, at least two things need to change before I will continue with it:  Romaine needs to develop a backbone and not allow herself to be pushed around by her crazy aunt (she did develop a small one but not enough); and Zanne needs to grow up, realize that Romaine isn't a little girl anymore, and stop trying to run everyone's life and let Romaine do whatever she wants regardless of what Zanne wants her to do; in other words, stop trying to run (and ruin) her life.
  

Blue Murder (A Flaxborough Mystery #10)

Author:  Colin Watson
Genre:  Mystery

Hardcover; Mass Market Paperback; Digital Book
ISBN #:  9780413461308; 9780749306694
Farrago Publishing
160 Pages
Various Prices; $3.99 Digital Amazon
June 28, 2018

✮✮✮✮✮


A peculiar pornographic movie has been wowing viewer in the Gulf.

One of the more scurrilous English Sunday papers gets a tip-off that this exotic blue production stars respected residents of the coastal town of Flaxborough, and a team led by the well-known investigative journalist Clive Grail arrives in a Rolls Royce.

Word of the looming scandal soon gets out and the town's quixotic mayor, Alderman Charlie Hockley, spurred on by the loan of some antique duelling pistols, issues a challenge to Grail!  DI Purbright's stern warning falls on deaf ears, but before the duel can take place a far more sinister fatality occurs...

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When members of a newspaper come to town in order to find out which residents of Flaxborough have participated in a blue film, there is immediate outrage by the mayor.  This is fueled by the fact of an oculist who has recently purchased a pair of dueling pistols and wants to get some use out of them.  When the mayor goes to the local newspaper editor, Kimble, the oculist, Hoole, is there and they convince Mayor Hockley to challenge Clive Grail to a duel to defend the town's honor.

But while Grail has no desire to participate, he's also in a bit of a quandary.  It seems that he and the rest of his crew have watched the film, along with Kimble and one of his reporters - who informs them that there is a bit of a problem with it.  In fact, if it were to get out, Grail could be made a laughingstock.

So Grail and his cronies devise a way to exit the situation:  fake a kidnapping and demand the film never be shown - and, as his "friends" have devised among themselves without his knowledge - the added bit of a 'ransom' of fifteen thousand pounds.  But something goes terribly wrong, and that's when DI Purbright steps in...

This is another wonderful mystery from the mind of Colin Watson.  DI Purbright learns about the duel from his chief constable, Mr. Chubb, and does his best to inform the parties that it might be better if it didn't go off, being illegal and all.  But then he learns about the film and when he discovers something more fatal along the way, it is up to himself and his team of officers to try and find the truth of the matter.

It is enjoyable indeed to watch our Purbright at work as he puts the clues together, and I love this series and wish there were more (alas, it was not to be as Mr. Watson passed away in 1982).  Purbright is an intelligent man who has a way of watching people and learning things from them without even apparently trying.  The endings are not traditional, as it were, but still things are always wrapped up tidily.  However, while they can be read as stand alone novels, I suggest you begin with the first and read them in order.  Highly recommended.

https://www.amazon.com/Murder-Flaxborough-Mystery-Colin-Watson-ebook/dp/B07BPHCRM7/

Goodreads:  https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/2425041318

More on Colin Watson's Books:  https://www.fantasticfiction.com/w/colin-watson/

Black Cat Crossing (A Bad Luck Cat Mystery)

Author:  Kay Finch
Genre:  Mystery

Mass Market Paperback; Audio CD; Digital Book
ISBN #:  9780425275245; 9781541465411
Berkley Publishing
304 Pages
$6.39; $17.38; $2.99 Amazon

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Sabrina has never been the superstitious type.  Still, when she moves to Lavender, Texas, to write her first novel and help her aunt, Rowe, manage her vacation rental business, Sabrina can't avoid listening to the rumors that a local black cat is a jinx - especially after the stray in question leads her directly to the scene of the murder.

The deceased turns out to be none other than her aunt Rowe's awful cousin Bobby Joe Flowers, a known cheat and womanizer who had no shortage of enemies.  The only problem is that Aunt Rowe and Bobby Joe had quarreled just before the cousin turned up dead, leaving Rowe at the top of the long list of suspects.  Luckily for Sabrina, she's got a new sidekick, Hitchcock the bad luck cat, to help her sniff out clues and stalk a killer before Aunt Rowe winds up the victim of even more misfortune...

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Sabrina is an aspiring writer who moved to the Texas Hill Country to be with her aunt, who has a broken leg due to a fall.  She hears rumors that her aunt's cousin Bobby Joe Flowers is soon to arrive, and he's not going to be a welcome sight.  But when he arrives sooner than expected, he tells a tale that intimates Sabrina's grandfather had an affair with a relative and he's the product of that affair and therefore part owner of Aunt Rowena's business.  Rowena, or Rowe as she is known to friends, naturally doesn't take kindly to the tale and hits Bobby Joe with her cane, demanding he leave - after telling him he won't get a single part of anything.

Sabrina has also heard tales of the black cat around town that is supposed to be bad luck, and sees him for herself.  She doesn't believe in superstition, and follows the cat down to the river, where she discovers the body of Bobby Joe.  When she discovers that her aunt is suspected of the murder, Sabrina decides to look for the killer herself, but is the killer also looking for her?...

I wanted to read this because it's a book about a cat, and what could be better?  Anything, apparently.  I really wanted to read it because it takes place in the Texas Hill Country where my family lives, and I actually got to page 49 before I became disgusted with it.  For a character to state that black cats cause "bad luck, misery, disease and even death" is irresponsible, and portrays these people as being low-educated, superstitious rednecks.  I would really like to believe that Ms. Finch doesn't actually think Texans are that stupid, but I have my doubts.

I also didn't like the fact that everyone thought the cat was evil and wanted to get rid of it.  Who on earth in this day and age truly believes an old wives' tale about black cats being evil?  Drivel like this only enforces these type of beliefs.

I'm also tired of the stereotypical deputy who hates the protagonist for one reason or another - this time it's because Sabrina is trying to write a mystery and Deputy Rosales thinks she's asking the police too many questions.  Really?  The police don't want to help her in being accurate?  Sure, that's believable.  But then Rosales - after arriving at the scene of the crime - asks Sabrina if she's excited about seeing a dead body.  What kind of person does something like that?  Not only is in inappropriate, it's not professional.  You'd have to be a particularly rotten type of person to make that remark.  I couldn't even like her after that and was kind of hoping she'd get killed off immediately, but no such luck.

Below is a major spoiler of the ending which really killed this book for me; at least I'm grateful it was at the end and not somewhere in the middle, which makes it a little more palatable.



When all is said and done, the book wasn't terrible, which is why I gave it two stars; but to have people act like complete morons when they see a black cat?  I just couldn't get over the fact of how absurd it seemed.  I will read the second in the series to see if it's improved in any way - the deputy lightening up, and the same goes for the people in this town regarding black cats.

https://www.amazon.com/Black-Cat-Crossing-Luck-Mystery/dp/0425275248/

Goodreads:  https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/2425024274

More on Kay Finch's Books:  https://www.fantasticfiction.com/f/kay-finch/

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Borrowed Crime (A Bookmobile Cat Mystery #3)

Author:  Laurie Cass
Genre:  Mystery

Mass Market Paperback; Digital Book
ISBN #:  9780425415486
Obsidian Mystery
352 Pages
$7.99; $7.99 Amazon
March 3, 2015

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When Minnie loses a grant that was supposed to keep the bookmobile running, she's worried that her pet project could come to its final page.  But she's determined to keep her patrons - and Eddie's fans - happy and well-read.  She just needs her boss, Stephen, to see things her way...and she needs to make sure he doesn't see Eddie.  The library director does not exactly know about the bookmobile's furry copilot.

But when a volunteer dies on the bookmobile's route, Minnie finds her traveling library in an even more precarious position.  Although the death was originally ruled a hunting accident, a growing stack of clues is pointing towards murder.  It's up to Minnie and Eddie to find the killer, and fast - before the best chapter of her life comes to a messy close...

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Minnie Hamilton and her cat Eddie run the bookmobile for the local library.  Right now she's having trouble finding volunteers to ride with her, because there has to be two people on the bus at all times.  When her volunteer Denise Slade hints that she might not be able to make it every time, of course Minnie gets frustrated.  One morning she expects Denise but instead finds her husband Roger waiting, stating that Denise had other obligations.  Since it's too late to do anything about it, Minnie decides to let it go.  What she discovers, though, is that Roger is much better company than Denise, and the day is going fine until they stop at a convenience store.  When Roger gets out for a few minutes and doesn't return, Minnie goes to look for him.  She finds Roger behind the store, apparently shot.

What at first looks like an accident soon turns into a murder investigation.  Faced with the facts that Roger's sister is threatening to sue the library for negligence and probably being fired in the process, Minnie decides her only option is to find the murderer herself since the police don't have any inclination to do so, in her opinion.

While looking into the matter, she also finds Denise may have been the target, not Roger, and that plenty of people hated her - who believes herself to be a champion of right and wrong, with no grey areas in between black and white.  While it made her plenty of enemies, did one of them hate her enough to want her dead?  And if so, are they willing to keep trying?...

I have to say that this book is much better than the last one, and has coherency.  It wasn't "all over the place" and actually had a plot you could follow, which is a good thing.  There weren't so many characters you had to keep looking back and forth throughout the book to figure out who was who.

Also on Minnie's plate is the fact her job may be in jeopardy, and she's trying to keep Eddie's being on the bus secret from him, because she thinks he'll fire her on the spot if he knows.  Not to mention there's a strange new neighbor across the street that won't talk to anyone; her new friend Deputy Wolverson is also acting slightly strange around her, and her relationship with Dr. Tucker Kleinow has seem to hit a snag.

While I enjoyed it more than the second, there were still some problems.  Like if she doesn't want Eddie shredding toilet paper, why don't they just shut the bathroom door?  My cats grew out of the shredding stage before they were full grown (some never even did it), so the only thing I can think of is Eddie is bored.  She gives him toys, but not once does she mention she played with him for awhile.  Poor little cat.  He's only there for her convenience so people will come and check out books.  (FYI, I play with my cats on a daily basis).

Minnie also confronted her neighbor about avoiding her, and really should have allowed him to open up on his own.  If a neighbor confronted me, they wouldn't do it twice.  Secondly, she acts as if she didn't have the bookmobile her life would be over.  I'm sure in college they don't tell you that the bookmobile is the best part of a library - I don't know any town that even has one although I'm sure some do.  I also wondered why a kindergarten teacher would need a bookmobile.  Unless things have changed, schools have their own libraries - with a better selection of books. 

Denise is not a likable person at all, and I think she was bipolar with all the mood swings.  Medication would have helped her a lot.  Stephen is becoming a little more human, which is a nice touch, and even Detective Inwood is unbending a little.  I really dislike hard-nosed cops that hate the protagonist, so that was nice.

In the end when the killer was discovered it made sense and was fairly satisfying, although not unexpected.  The clues were there if you looked for them, but it was still a decent read.  I will probably read the next in the series and see where it goes.

https://www.amazon.com/Borrowed-Crime-Bookmobile-Cat-Mystery/dp/0451415485/

Goodreads:  https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/2424000286

More on Laurie Cass's Books:  https://www.fantasticfiction.com/c/laurie-cass/

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Tailing a Tabby (Bookmobile Cat Mysteries Book 2)

Author:  Laurie Cass
Genre:  Mystery

Hardcover; Mass Market Paperback; Audio CD; Digital Book
ISBN #:  9780451415479; 9781977350572
Berkley Publishing (Tantor Audio)
352 Pages
Various; $7.99; $18.81; $7.99 Amazon
July 1, 2014

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The bookmobile is making its usual rounds when Minnie and Eddie are flagged down by a woman in distress.  The woman's husband, a famous artist, needs emergency medical care.  After getting him into the bookmobile, Minnie races the man to the hospital in time...but his bad luck has only just begun.

After disappearing from the hospital the artist is discovered slumped over the body of a murdered woman.  Minnie knows that her new friend didn't commit the crime, but the evidence paints an unflattering picture.  Now this librarian and her furry friend have to put the investigation in high gear and catch the real killer before someone else checks out.

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Minnie and Eddie the cat are out for another day in their bookmobile when she sees a woman flagging her down in the road.  When she stops it turns out the woman is Barbara McCade, and it seems her husband Russell, a famous artist, has had a stroke and she needs help.  She broke her cell phone and has no way to reach 911, so Minnie helps her get him into the bookmobile and they take him to the nearest hospital.

Later on, after making friends with the couple she receives a frantic call from Barb.  It seems her husband has left the hospital on his own and was found in the home of a woman recently murdered, and they think he's responsible.  After hiring a high-priced attorney, it appears that Cade, as he's known, may be in the clear, but he's still a suspect, so Minnie decides to help find the murderer.

But it seems the woman wasn't discreet when it came to affairs - even though Cade and Barb tell Minnie that they barely knew the woman - yet Minnie still needs to find a murderer if she doesn't want her new friend to wind up in prison.  With a little help from Cade and, of course, her loyal cat Eddie, Minnie might be able to discover the truth...

I started this book because I read the first in the series and love cats.  But it almost lost me at the beginning.  It's awfully convenient to the story line to say that she broke her phone, can't find her husband's and they don't have a landline.  Anyway...Minnie has a cell phone, but she thought it would be better to bounce a stroke victim around on the dirty floor of a bookmobile (people walk all over it) than use her cell to call the paramedics?  I guess she has all kinds of medical equipment in the bus that we didn't know about.  What would she do if there were problems on the way to the hospital?  Watch him die on the floor?  That was just sloppy writing.

As far as her Aunt Frances' matchmaking goes, it all seems too pat for me.  Did she only invite people who lived in the same cities?  I can't imagine anyone just picking up their life so easily to move in with someone or get married.  Leave your job?  Sure!  I have a partner now!  Leave your home and family?  Why not?  No one makes a decision like that over the course of a few weeks unless their life is going bad anyway and they have nothing to keep them...but then again, if they can afford to be "boarders" for a few months, they probably aren't working anyway.  Sorry, but Aunt Frances is a busybody who needs to find a boyfriend of her own and stop interfering in other people's lives.  These people didn't sign up for a matchmaking service.  She's an unlikable character. 

As much as I love Eddie, I find it odd that a man who just had a stroke and his wife is worried about his health - would start a conversation with, "How's your cat?"  I can't even imagine how that would occur to someone.  No one has ever started a conversation with me asking about my cat.  Ever.

Then there's the interesting part about the candy jar.  People were making entries based on the number of original candies they saw in the jar; not a new amount that was less because of children digging their hands in the jar because a mother never taught her kids any better than to just take something without asking.  (One of these kids was pretty smart-mouthed so I'm assuming they were old enough to learn manners).  So even "averaging out" the number would have been a cheat because of this.  She should have stopped the contest then and there and picked a winner from the people who had entered thus far; but Minnie doesn't seem to have a lot of common sense anyway.

I say this because she's a pretty bad sleuth.  She just walks up to strangers and asks them about the dead woman - and they just tell her what she wants to know.  They offer up unsolicited alibis without knowing why she's asking.  ("Oh, I have a friend who's a suspect in a murder and I'm trying to find someone else for the police to turn to instead").  Really?

Now, I know people can develop allergies out of the blue, but it's hard to believe that a 35-year-old man has never been in close contact with a cat at least once in his life.  Never had a patient who owned cats and had fur on their clothes or petted their cat before seeing the doctor?  Never had a relative who owned a cat - aunts, uncles, cousins, friends, etc.?  (Her response about never petting a llama was ridiculous - honestly, how many people own llamas that you know as opposed to how many cat owners there are in the US?)  Even if you have an allergy to dogs, chances are you would have come across a few in this lifetime; and peoples' allergies can actually disappear over time.  Will she choose Tucker or Eddie?  Gee, that's a tough one to figure out.

Then there was the problem of Mitchell, who was hanging around the library because he didn't have anywhere else to go, and somehow it became Minnie's problem to tell him he wasn't welcome there anymore.  (Actually, it was kind of creepy how he just hung around all day).  She didn't really do anything about it, it sort of resolved itself and she actually came off as a bad employee. 

So the police couldn't prove the phone call to Cade - the one drawing him away from the hospital - was ever made?  They must be the most inept police ever.  It's nice to know hospital phone calls aren't monitored - like when someone calls a hospital and has to ask for a patient and they get the nurses' station and the nurse has to transfer them to the room.  But this hospital doesn't do that?  They have no records of phone calls to a specific room on their logs?  The telephone company doesn't keep records of this information?

These might seem minor details to some, but it is the minor details that make up the whole of the book, and I always notice details.  If a book has one or two incidents that don't make sense I will let it go; but if there are too many - and there were others I didn't list - then in all conscience I can't ignore it and I won't give a good review if the book doesn't deserve one.  Sorry, but there it is.

At the last, there were way too many people in the book, and because of this, no real clues to the murderer until the very last pages.  There was no indications at all about this person, so to say it was a surprise is an understatement.  However, I will read the next in the series in the hopes that it will improve.

Remembering the Dead (A Penny Brannigan Mystery #10)

Author:  Elizabeth J. Duncan Genre:   Mystery Hardcover; Digital Book ISBN #:  9781643851136 Crooked Lane Publishing $26.56; $12.99 Am...