Friday, April 26, 2019

Death and Daisies (A Magic Garden Mystery #2)

Author:  Amanda Flower
Genre:  Mystery

Hardcover; Digital Book
ISBN #:  9781683317814
Crooked Lane Books
$26.99; $10.69 Amazon
November 13, 2018

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Fiona Fox thought she was pulling her life back together when she inherited her godfather's cottage in Duncreigan, Scotland - complete with a magical walled garden.  But the erstwhile Tennessee flower shop owner promptly found herself puddle boot-deep in danger when she found a dead body among the glimmering blossoms.  One police investigation later (made a trifle less unpleasant by the presence of handsome Chief Inspector Neil Craig), and Fiona's life is getting back on a steady, though bewitched, track.  Her sister Isla has just moved in with her, and the grand opening of her new spellbound venture, the Climbing Rose Flower Shop in Aberdeenshire, is imminent.

But dark, ensorcelled clouds are gathering to douse Fiona's new sunny outlook.  First, imperious parish minister Quaid MacCullen makes it undeniably clear that he would be happy to send Fiona back to Tennessee.  Then, a horrific lightning storm, rife with terribly omen, threatens to tear apart the elderly cottage and sends Fi and Isla cowering under their beds.  The storm passes, but then Fi is called away from the Climbing Rose's opening soiree when Kipling, the tiny village's weak-kneed volunteer police chief, finds a dead body on the beach.

The body proves difficult to identify, but Kipling is certain it's that of the parish minister.  Which makes Fiona, MacCullen's new nemesis, a suspect.  And what's worse, Isla has seemed bewitched as of late...did she do something unspeakable to protect her sister?  The last thing Fiona wanted to do was play detective again.  But now, the rosy future she'd envisioned is going to seed, and if she and Craig can't clear her name, her idyllic life will wilt away.

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Fiona Knox is settling in to her new life in Scotland; caretaker to a magic garden that will work its magic only for her, and anticipating the opening of her new flower shop in town.  She was also surprised when her younger sister Isla turned up on her doorstep announcing she wanted to visit Scotland before she went home and looked for a job after her college graduation.  She certainly has her hands full, but there's trouble on the horizon when the local minister makes an unannounced visit to her yet-to-be-opened shop and tells her that she's not wanted.

When there's a terrible storm and Minister MacCullen is found dead on the beach, Fiona believes she'll be a suspect, and sets out to find out who wanted the minister dead.  But while it becomes apparent that many people disliked him, she also finds that the little town is hiding more secrets yet, and not only is a killer still on the loose, it seems that person has set their sights on her as the next victim...

This is the second book in the Magic Garden series, and I wanted to like it as much as the first, which was, for the most part, a delight.  Unfortunately, when there's something that makes it so you don't really enjoy it, and that something happens to be one of the characters, well...it's Isla.  I just couldn't stand her.  She's a petulant child who never should have been let off the family farm.

She treats Fiona like the enemy, fighting with her at every turn instead of being happy that she's getting free room and board (she's even taken over the bed leaving Fiona to sleep on the sofa).  What does she do in return?  Complain constantly.  Hide things from Fiona and lie to her.  Tell her a curse has been put on her head.  Oh, yes, such a lovely young woman.  There's nothing great about being a "free spirit" either.  That usually means you don't want to do anything or take responsibility in your life, living off others if you get the chance.  Isla also whines about not having a job or a place to live.  How is this Fiona's fault?  There's no good way around it, Isla is annoying, petulant, spoiled, selfish and self-centered.  I just didn't see any good qualities in her at all, and I was certainly looking for them.  My only hope is that she won't be in any future books.

Then, Fiona remarks that because of their eight year difference in age her younger sister looks on her like an aunt.  Oh, please.  My oldest sister is nearly eleven years older than my youngest, and trust me, neither of them have looked on each other as niece/aunt.  This is just patently ridiculous.  So I suppose if a husband is eight or more years older than his wife she looks on him like a fond uncle?  There's a place you don't want to go.

There's also a continuity problem between the two books.  In the first book, Fiona is twenty-eight, but this is two months later and Fiona is over thirty.  Boy, that garden has some strange magic going on.  It even ages you a couple of years in a matter of months.  I was also confused because in the first book we were given to understand that she broke up with her fiancé (true) eight days before arriving in Scotland, and her flower shop had gone under just ten days before she arrived.  But now she states as how her shop had closed two years ago.  What?  Then, in another chapter, she states that she hadn't thought of the car keys being in her pocket when she left Isla alone at her shop, but earlier in the same chapter she mentions that Isla would be frustrated at how long she was gone since the car keys were in her pocket and Isla would be stuck in the village until she got back.  This was in the same chapter and only a few pages earlier.

Also (sigh) Fiona thinks to herself that Ivanhoe's bed belonged to his former owner - but in the previous book the bed was a gift from Cally, not Alistair.  Cally told her she went out and bought the bed, toys, food, etc.; everything a cat would need.  I know I'm being harsh, but did the author not take notes as she was writing?  I always take notes to reference later.  So this was not a good beginning to the book, which is a bit of a tragedy because I was really looking forward to reading it.  It really tainted my enjoyment of the book.  But I will say that if you have not read the first book (or at least as close together as I have) then you will not notice these differences or inconsistencies at all.

The blurb was also a tad misleading; I never felt that Fiona was a suspect in the murder.  She never openly fought with the minister, and seemed more confused at his behavior toward her.  Craig also never treated her like a suspect, so one would come to the conclusion that he never thought she was.  It was only Hamish's request that she prove his nephew Seth had nothing to do with it that made her get involved in the first place.

While there were plenty of suspects and red herrings strewn about, I would have liked to have Fiona involved more with the garden.  She was there only once or twice, and Hamish was barely in this book.  She didn't even spend much time at her new shop.  She ran about trying to solve a murder and withholding evidence from Craig, which was not a very smart thing to do.  How does she expect him to trust her when she doesn't trust him?

In the end, I was surprised by the killer, but I did feel that it all came together nicely.  However, you really do need to read the first book to understand the reasons why Fiona made Scotland her home in the first place, and it will help you understand things in this book.  I am also pleased to say that my suspicions in the first book came to pass in this one.

The writing was very good, and I enjoyed revisiting Raj and his sister Presha, and, of course, Detective Inspector Neil Craig.  It was interesting watching Fiona deal with her feelings in that regard; and of course, Ivanhoe, without whom the book just wouldn't be complete.

Even with the problems this book has, I am still looking forward to another book in this series.  However, the author is penning several different series, and even beginning a new one; I can only conclude that it will take some time before we see that third book, which will answer questions that were raised in this one.

I know that Ms. Flower is a talented and prolific writer, and I also read and enjoy a couple of the others.  Hopefully, though, we will see the third book in this series emerge before too much more time passes.  Recommended.

https://www.amazon.com/Death-Daisies-Magic-Garden-Mystery/dp/1683317815/ref

Goodreads:  https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/2799949932

More on Amanda Flower's Books:  https://www.fantasticfiction.com/f/amanda-flower/

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Flowers and Foul Play (A Magic Garden Mystery #1)

Author:  Amanda Flower
Genre:  Mystery

Hardcover; Trade Paperback; MP3 CD; Digital Book
ISBN #:  9781683315629; 9781683317753; 9781978642683
Crooked Lane Books
336 Pages
$16.86; $10.99; $14.99; $1.99; Amazon
May 8, 2018 (October 9, 2018 TP)

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Florist Fiona Fox's life isn't smelling so sweet these days.  Her fiancé left her for their cake decorator.  Then, her flower shop wilted after a chain florist opened next door.  So when her godfather, Ian MacCallister, leaves her a cottage in Scotland, Fiona jumps on the next plane to Edinburgh.  Ian, after all, is the one who taught her to love flowers.  but when Ian's elderly caretaker Hamish MacGregor shows her to the cottage upon her arrival, she finds the once resplendent grounds of Duncreigan in a dreadful shambles - with a dead body in the garden,

Minutes into her arrival, Fiona is already being questioned by the handsome Chief Inspector Neil Craig and getting her passport seized.  But it's Craig's fixation on Uncle Ian's loyal caretaker, Hamish, as a prime suspect, that really makes her worried.  As Fiona strolls the town, she quickly realizes there are a whole bouquet of suspects much more likely to have killed Alastair Croft, the dead lawyer who seems to have had more enemies than friends.  Now it's up to Fiona to clear Hamish's name before it's too late.

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Fiona Knox is heartbroken at learning that her godfather, whom she called Uncle Ian, has just died.  She's just arrived in Scotland because she's discovered that he's left her everything he owns, including his small cottage and the walled garden behind it.

When she arrives at the cottage the elderly caretaker, Hamish MacGregor, meets her and takes her to the garden.  She's dismayed that the garden is apparently dead, but Hamish informs her that now that she's here, the garden will live again.  Looking around, Fiona thinks him deluded.  Looking around even more, she sees a yellow rose twining around a stone, and Hamish tells her that it's beginning to show signs of life once more...but maybe not so much as she soon sees a boot..a foot...and a dead body. 

When it's determined that the dead man is Alistair Croft, her godfather's solicitor, everyone is wondering how he got into the garden since it's kept locked and Hamish tells Fiona that he gave her the only key.  But when all signs point to the fact that Hamish might be guilty of the crime, Fiona decides that Chief Inspector Neil Craig has the wrong person, and she's going to find the right one before Hamish is arrested for a crime he didn't commit...

I really liked the premise of this book - a magical garden in Scotland - which is why I wanted to read it.  I did think at first that it had a rocky beginning; I understood about her fiancé dumping her and Fiona wanting to abruptly leave; but I really didn't find it believable that a flower shop would open right across the street from another one.  Why would you actually set out to put someone out of business, especially in a large city like Nashville where there must have been plenty of locations they could have opened in?

Nevertheless, I kept reading, and I have to say that I enjoyed the rest of the book.  I found only a few errata that should have been caught by the publisher (unfortunately, I notice details): using phased instead of fazed, mantle instead of mantel; and in the same chapter Fiona says, ..."or took it from her after he was dead" when it was most obviously supposed to be him.  I imagine this particular chapter was proofread by a newbie, but hey...

I'm still on the fence about Fiona, though: on the one hand she seems to be levelheaded and her questioning isn't really invasive; she knows when to pull back and not harass people (except for one instance where she deliberately corners Seth) to the point that they sidestep around if they see her coming; but I also didn't care for the fact that she's trying so hard to be defensive to Inspector Craig.  She keeps insisting she doesn't need help (she sometimes does), and for some odd reason she gets upset when he actually holds a door open for her.  What idiotic woman would get upset that a man wants to treat her like a lady?

Although I was clued in quite quickly on something that never actually came to fruition in this book, but I imagine it will be touched upon in the next:  After hearing about the letter Fiona was supposed to receive but didn't, I knew right away why Ian left her everything and why the garden came to life for her after her godfather died.  You'd have to be pretty dense not to figure it out, especially after she questioned Hamish about her Uncle Ian being in love and his response was "Choices were made."  At least it wasn't a cliffhanger, because I absolutely detest them.  I call it 'holding the reader hostage'.

Anyway, for the most part, the mystery was done very well, with enough suspects and a few red herrings thrown about here and there.  I really did like how the garden tied in to everything that was happening around Fiona, but how she, quite rightly, didn't want to accept the power it had over her; and how, throughout the book she began to accept the fact that everything Hamish told her was the truth.  I also liked how the people in the village respected Ian and transferred that to her and were willing to accept her into their tight-knit community - all with the exception of the local minister, but I found it odd why he never explained his reasons for not liking her nor Ian. 

All in all, when the murderer was discovered and the reasons behind it, it came as a surprise, yet it all came together nicely and I enjoyed the ending very well.  This is the first book in the series, an easy read, and I will read the next, hoping to discover if my suspicions are correct (and maybe also find out why the minister hates her while never having seen her before she appeared in their little village).  Recommended.

https://www.amazon.com/Flowers-Foul-Play-Garden-Mystery/dp/1683315626/ref

Goodreads:  https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/2798025252

More on Amanda Flower's Books:  https://www.fantasticfiction.com/f/amanda-flower/

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Going Organic Can Kill You (A Blossom Valley Mystery #1)

Author:  Staci McLaughlin
Genre:   Mystery

Mass Market Paperback; Digital Book
ISBN #:  9780758275004
Kensington Publishing
294 Pages
$7.99; $1.99 Amazon
July 3, 2012



As Dana readjusts to life back home with her recently widowed mother, her latest career move isn't exactly a piece of cake.  In fact, it's all tofu fish sticks, stuffed squash blossoms, and enough wheat grass shots to scream bloody murder - especially when Dana discovers the body of Maxwell Mendelsohn, Hollywood producer and opening weekend guest, deader than a yoga corpse pose.  While Dana pens the Spa's blog and balances the attentions of the local police and reporter Jason Forrester, her escalating job duties now include finding clues, motives and suspects.  One thing's for certain, she better act fast before all this healthy living kills her.

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Dana has moved back home after she lost her job and her father died, and her mother got her a job at a new Spa and Farm that has recently opened.  She's the marketing person and has been hired to promote the new business.

She's also been railroaded into chasing an errant pig and helping put towels in guests' rooms.  It's this last act that brings her to the fact of find a dead guest; a murdered dead guest, to be exact.  Now she's trying to figure out who killed him and how she's going to get another job if this one doesn't pan out because dead bodies have a way of making things go south...

This is the first book in the series and I thought it had a pretty good premise from the blurb, but I was wrong.  Dana is rather a snob, her ‘inner person’ making snide comments about people.  Supposedly this is an organic farm and spa, but nowhere does it say this is (to put it bluntly) a fat farm.  So why is the cook serving the guests inedible food?  Nothing sounded the least bit appetizing - even Dana couldn’t stand it; and none of the guests seemed to be eating it, yet the cook wasn’t replaced and she was still serving them garbage fit for their pig, Wilbur.  A spa, in case the author doesn’t know, quite often has wonderful, world class cuisine, because they want the guests to return.  This place, it seems, caters to having one-time only guests since they don’t feed them properly and can’t keep their farm animals penned.  This is not a place I’d want to visit, even if it was free.

The proprietor, Esther O'Connell, is completely scatter-brained and we’re given to understand that she’s a blithering idiot since her husband died.  So did her husband take care of everything while his “little woman” didn’t have to "worry her pretty head" about anything?  Because that’s the impression I got right away from the first chapters.  That the woman is incapable of running a business at all - and she should have sold it immediately.

The manager, Gordon Stewart, is a pompous ass who has no place at the farm.  He seems to think helping when it’s needed is beneath him, and therefore, he too should have been replaced.  I couldn’t stand his character, and was hoping he’d be the next body discovered.  I also wanted to know what a marketing person was doing serving guests and then given housekeeping duties.  I would have flat out refused.  People are hired for specific jobs, and if they can’t do them, they need to be let go.  This is the worst-run business I’ve ever read about, and I’m not even twenty pages into it, which pretty much tells you my opinion of the book.  How did it get five-star ratings with things like this?

Her sister is horrible.  Harassing Dana to tell her all about a dead man instead of being sympathetic.  What kind of person does that?  Dana’s mother should have sent her to her room.  Speaking of which, why are two adult daughters living at home with their mother?  I get that Dana was out of work for awhile, but Ashlee has a job, sooo....not to mention the two girls act like teenagers instead of adults, taunting each other.  Honestly?  This is supposed to pass for humor?  Or are we supposed to figure out that Ashlee is a witch?  Also, Dana is twenty-eight, and her mother is telling her what to eat.  So skinny is healthy?  She basically said if she had an ounce of fat on her, Dana couldn’t get a man.  How offensive is that?  On so many levels, yet.  (As far as cereal goes, unless you’re eating an entire box at breakfast, it’s not going to harm you physically as much as sucking down diet sodas, fast food and junk food all day will).

Also, I would like to believe that people aren’t so ghoulish as to want to stay in a room where a man was murdered the day before.  I’d also say that it’s probably not plausible.  Even the most seasoned ghost hunter would wait until the corpse wasn’t around anywhere close.  We're supposed to believe that people are lining up to sleep in a room where the man was murdered.  Even the famous Hollywood Hotel doesn't get this kind of action.  At any rate, I couldn’t stand any of the characters, so this series is a no-go for me.

I wish I had something good to say about this book, but there just isn't anything at all.  The manager is pompous, the cook a glorified hippie who wants to serve people lawns, the maid lazy, the owner flaky, Dana's mother pushy, her sister nasty, the boyfriend even has a nasty streak, and Dana is snide and thinks she's better than anyone else.  All the secondary characters are unlikable, too.  There are a lot better books out there, and I'm not wasting any more time reading this series. 

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Cold-Brewed Murder (Coffee Cup Mysteries Book Two)

Author:  Neila Young
Genre:   Mystery

Trade Paperback; Digital Book
ISBN #:  9781948051231
Red Adept Publishing
288 Pages
$13.99; $7.99 Amazon
November 15, 2018

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Blake Harper doesn't need any more excitement, especially the kind that comes with murder.  She only wants to run her business and focus on her love life.  But on the night of Mystery Cup Café's big Halloween bash, she sees a clown stab a masked man in the chest.

Blake calls her sister, the town's lead detective, but when the police arrive, there is no killer...and no body.  While everyone blows the whole thing off as a prank, Blake knows the truth.  When the clown makes an appearance at her home Halloween party, she realizes the killer may be out to eliminate any witnesses.

Blake must figure out not only who the killer is, but also who first the victim was.  Will she be able to solve the murder when she's faced with a town full of people who don't even believe a crime happened?  And can she unmask the killer before he stops her once and for all?

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Blake Harper owns Mystery Cup, a coffee shop in a small town in Missouri that's known for being haunted.  It's nearing Halloween, and Blake is readying her rooftop for a party, when she uses a pair of binoculars her employee Giselle has, to look around her neighborhood with a birds-eye view.  She centers in on an apartment nearby that's above another shop, and sees what appears to be a clown murdering a phantom of the opera.  But no one will believe her, and when her sister Kyle - a police officer - checks out the apartment, there's nothing there that points to murder.  But Blake knows what she saw, and she's determined to find out who the victim was.

When she manages to get a peek inside the apartment she doesn't find anything suspicious, but she knows someone was killed and is determined to find out who.  When a curious conversation reveals something she never considered, Blake finally is able to find out who the victim was - but at the cost of making herself the target of a killer who thinks she knows more than she does.  Now she needs to find out who wanted the victim dead and why, and if she doesn't find out soon, it won't matter because she won't be around to tell anyone...

This is the second book in the series and I really wanted to like it as much as the first.  Unfortunately, Blake and her family members (Rachel and Kyle) haven't grown up at all; they're still talking like high school girls crushing on boys.  There was a lot of "hottie" thrown around, and I expected them to throw their fists in the air and scream 'woot-woot' at any minute.  Example:  Her sister-in-law Rachel talks about having sex with Blake's brother.  That’s just cringe-worthy.  I noticed it in the first book and it’s not any funnier now than it was then.  I was hoping the author wouldn’t go there again.  Also, it’s pretty immature if you think it’s hilarious.  Does her brother think this is a fun hobby, too?

I also wondered why she was having a rooftop Halloween party in October.  In Missouri the average temperature would be in the 40's, pretty cold at night, so why are they having a party on a rooftop?  You can't see a costume if everyone is wearing coats, and if they're not, they'd be spending the majority of their time shivering and moving around trying to stay warm.  I'm big on details, and these are the kinds of things I notice.  Sorry.

I really, really hate love triangles.  You'd think three women would be able not to think about hooking up with some guy 24/7, but aside from talking about the murder (which took second place to the 'hotties'), this is all they talked about - whether Blake should hook up with Seth or Adam.  Rachel actually wanted to make a 'visual graph' of the pros and cons of the two men interested in Blake.  Seriously?  These women have too much time on their hands.  They need hobbies.  Right now.  And everyone is 'hooking up' with someone else; obviously it's a crime to be single in this town.  The baristas, shop owners, waitresses - no one was spared from Rachel and Blake giving each other glances or wondering who was seeing whom.  Also, two guys fighting over a woman is not hot.  It's juvenile, but explains a lot about Rachel and her attitude about men.  (Although I do wonder if Sabrina will wind up with one of Blake's cast-offs.  Hmmm...I wonder why I thought that at all...)

On top of that, Blake is annoying.  She does whatever she wants - including walking into danger - regardless of what the consequences might be.  Not only that, she actually tells people she's going to do it, and then when they try to talk her out of it or make her promise not to, she ignores them.  She also tells us she's a "strong, independent woman" but then makes rash decisions that put her in situations that make her dependent on someone else having to get her out of them, which belies that statement.

But even with all of this I was determined to finish the book because I knew a mystery was somewhere in between all the talk of who's seeing who and who's hot.  Just when I thought it was starting to get interesting, the book completely lost me:  The women were at a self-defense class, and Sabrina - the 'evil nemesis' because we must have one, right? - out and out deliberately assaults Blake, and the cops see it and don't do anything.  Are you kidding me?  They don't need to have Blake's permission to arrest Sabrina.  It. Was. Deliberate.  They were witnesses.  It literally made me angry that this violence was allowed without any repercussions.  It's one thing to be in the cross hairs of a killer where there might be violence, but this was an actual assault.  The excuse?  Blake was nosing around.  Seriously? 

So not only do we have the extremely unlikable character of Sabrina, she's also allowed to physically assault the protagonist and get away with it.  What's in the next book?  Sabrina runs over Blake's cat?  Sets fire to her house?  No, that pretty much ruined it for me.  I can't like a book where there's no comeuppance for someone who does something like that.  Kyle should have arrested her right there.  The fact that Sabrina had no problem attacking Blake right in front of Kyle, and then was surprised that there might be a chance she'd get arrested but didn't...well, that's not only brazen, it shows that she can do whatever she wants with impunity, and I'm not interested at all.

While the killer was revealed and caught, we were given that resolution, which was a good thing, but in it's place the book left us with a mini-cliffhanger - one more thing I dislike in mysteries.  Unfortunately, after this - the love triangle, the evil nemesis; purposeful attack on Blake that the cops see and don’t arrest anyone for; so many extra characters to keep track of; puerile behavior by Rachel - I don't care enough to read the next, and for that I am sorry, because the mystery would have been more interesting without all the conflicts going on.

Monday, April 8, 2019

Fair Game (A Zoe Chambers Mystery #8)

Author:  Annette Dashofy
Genre:   Mystery

Hardcover; Trade Paperback
ISBN #:  9781635115024; 9781635114997
Henery Press Publishing
286 Pages
$29.80; $15.95 Amazon
May 14, 2019

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Paramedic Zoe Chambers hoped a week at the Monongahela County Fair, showing her horse and manning the ambulance, would provide a much-needed diversion from recent events that continue to haunt her.  An old friend, a bossy nemesis, and a teenage crush from her 4-H days fail to offer the distraction she had in mind.  But ever the caregiver, she soon bonds with a troubled teen and a grieving father.

Back in Vance Township, a missing woman turns up dead, leading Police Chief Pete Adams into a journey through her mysterious final hours.  With each new clue, the tragic circumstances of her death grow increasingly muddied.

A cryptic phone call leads Pete to join Zoe for an evening at the fairgrounds where the annual school bus demolition derby concludes with a gruesome discovery and a new case that may or may not be connected to the first.  Pete's quest for the motive behind two homicides -- and Zoe's stubborn determination to reunite a family - thrust them both onto a collision course with a violent and desperate felon.

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Zoe Chambers is a paramedic in rural Pennsylvania.  She owns a farm that needs work before she can move in, but it is where she houses her beloved horse Windstar.  Her cousin Patsy is showing her own horse Jazzel at the county fair, and has convinced Zoe to do the same.  Because of this, Zoe has volunteered to work her shift at the fair, which will allow her to do both.

Zoe is also an ex-4H member who learned under Diane Reynolds, who is still teaching and at the fair.  She's also surprised to find out that her ex-crush Cody DeRosa is the judge, and quite a hit with the ladies.  Add to that an old nemesis in Merryn Schultz, a woman who's been in and out of jail and whose teenaged son is at the fair hanging out with her partner Earl's boys, much to the dismay of his mother.  You would think this would be enough to keep Zoe busy, between her horse and work, but more awaits her...

Meanwhile, Pete Adams, Zoe's boyfriend and Vance County sheriff, has received a visit from a businessman informing him of an argument at a local hotel where two men were talking and one threatened to kill someone.  Pete, of course, is going to investigate and see if there's anything to the threat, but doesn't expect much will come of it.  Then he receives a phone call from a local waitress of an abandoned car.  When he investigates that, he discovers the body of a woman in the brambles of wild roses.  It doesn't take long to find out she's Vera Palmer, and her husband Jack is at the fair.

When Pete locates her husband through Zoe, he's devastated by the news.  Jack had recently helped Zoe corral a young girl's runaway pony.  Zoe, also a deputy coroner, wants to attend the autopsy to find how Vera died.  For all intents and purposes, it appears she was struck on the back of the head and fell into the brambles.  But who would want to kill this woman, who apparently had no enemies?  From everything Pete has learned, she wasn't much of a drinker, and everyone liked her.  Yet there's a body in the morgue that states at least one person wasn't happy with her...

Zoe's also had an offer that could change her life forever - and Pete's, too; and Pete has a decision of his own to make that will change their lives regardless of the outcome.  With both of them wrestling with their personal dilemmas, it only adds to the chaos going on around them, including another relative of Zoe's, who surprised her by showing up and telling her she was getting married.

When there's another murder at the fairgrounds and Zoe discovers it to be someone she knew long ago, she can't imagine anyone wanting him dead, either.  But it soon becomes more of a puzzle than she thought when both she and Pete start coming to the conclusion that the two deaths might be related.  Their personal lives are on hold while they try to find out the truth and discover why two people have died who didn't seem to have any enemies at all...

I loved this book.  The story line was intriguing, and there were plenty of subplots that wove themselves in with all the threads beginning separately and twisting together slowly.  Starting with the beginning thread - a man reporting a possible murder - it began a chain of events that deliberately initiated this thread and made for a riveting tale that keeps one engrossed in the tale.

Zoe's wrestling with the decisions she needs to make in her life coincide with the decision that Pete needs to make in his.  While Pete's is almost immediate in the story, it takes some time before we get to Zoe's.  But we find that both of them are wondering about the path their lives will take if changes are made; and we also see that both of them - without actually speaking to each other about it - are committed to the fact that whatever decisions are made, they aren't willing to do so without considering the other person.  It's done so well that you would think the author was actually on speaking terms with both Pete and Zoe (which, of course, Ms. Dashofy is indeed); and it attests to the fact that she knows her characters well and their actions and reactions to any situation.

The same can be said about these characters regarding the deaths of two people; Zoe and Pete have very different reactions but it all winds up in the same place.  Yet Zoe has more on her plate by far, and she's trying very hard to do the right thing while questioning her own judgment.  It's a dark place she's in, and not one in which I would want to find myself.

I love Zoe and Pete, and even Wayne.  You can easily tell that he value's Pete's friendship and his input.  Zoe and Pete are intelligent, caring; while Pete can keep his personal life out of his professional one, Zoe differs in that she allows her emotions to enter into her actions.  Never does it infringe on her professional status as a paramedic/coroner, but it attests to the fact that because chosen a career in which she helps others that she is also willing to help others in her daily life.  It makes for two very dynamic people who are very different externally and internally.

The story was taut and written well; the mystery itself was quite different and believable; while there were a few red herrings strewn about, the ending came as quite a surprise and was both sad and bittersweet, making one wish the outcome could have been different while understanding just the same.  Yet there was still another surprise to come that gives us something to look forward to in the next in the series.  Highly recommended.

https://www.amazon.com/Fair-Game-Zoe-Chambers-Mystery/dp/1635114993/ref=

Goodreads:  https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/2779529384

More on Annette Dashofy's Books:  https://www.fantasticfiction.com/d/annette-dashofy/

Friday, April 5, 2019

Cut to the Chaise (A Caprice De Luca Home Staging Mystery #8)

Author:  Karen Rose Smith
Genre:   Mystery

Mass Market Paperback; Digital Book
ISBN #:  9781496709790
Kensington Publishing
352 Pages
$7.99; $5.99 Amazon
November 27, 2018

✮✮


With her wedding day mere weeks away, home stager Caprice De Luca is busy arranging every last detail for the reception at Rambling Vines Winery - a stylish venue she redecorated two years earlier.  But the closer the bride-to-be gets to saying, "I do," the more a celebration at Rambling Vines seems like a terrible mistake.  As financial mishaps and unhappy customers put the winery in the red, an unidentified criminal plots to sour the business's already ailing reputation.  Dodd's past could leave a permanent stain on Caprice's best friend's current love life.  When Michelle's aloof husband is found stabbed to death on a chaise lounge in the tasting room, Caprice vows to name the calculating culprit and set things right before her dream nuptials dissolve into a deadly nightmare...

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Caprice De Luca is finally getting married to the love of her life, Grant Weatherford.  She's got everything arranged - or at least think she does - when one of the owners of the winery where she's going to have her reception is murdered.  Now she wonders if his wife killed him, and if not, who did.  If she doesn't figure it out in a few short days, not only will her wedding be a disaster, but the wrong person might be arrested for the crime...

I used to love this series so much, and I hate to say that in this last book, which I am guessing is an end to the series since another hasn't been written since last year and the author is carrying on with a new one; had a disappointing finale.  So much so, I couldn't even read it all the way through and wound up skimming the pages.

The plot was weak.  There is a scene where a teenager is about to pour something into a vat of wine (that will obviously taint it) but when he is caught, states he didn't know he was doing anything wrong.  And for this he was going to get $500.  Right.  A teenager is offered $500 to pour something into a vat of wine, and he thinks it's on the up-and-up?  Is he the dumbest kid in this city?

Then, when Vince received the phone call about Travis's murder, he would have stated that he was going to act as Michelle's attorney, not as her lawyer.  Attorneys do not refer to themselves as lawyers.  Lay people refer to them as that.  Vince also should have found her another attorney immediately since he was once involved with her and that could give the prosecutor ammunition in the case (even if he didn't think it would go to trial).  If you've dated or are dating a client, you should never be the one to defend them as it's a conflict of interest.  I would think even this author would know that.

Roz was acting like a 16-year-old with a new boyfriend who found out another high school girl was making a play for him.  Doesn't she believe that Vince loves her?  Has he given any indication that he was still interested in the ex-girlfriend?  I don't think so, considering that Roz never knew Michelle existed.  Which tells me that Vince has never even mentioned her.  Which says that Vince hasn't thought about her since they broke up.  So why is Roz in a panic?  Doesn't she trust Vince?  Maybe Roz should have just walked away from Vince right then and there if she didn't trust him.  You can't have a decent relationship without trust.  But then I soon began to realize the reason there was distrust.  It was the main plot of the story, not the murder.  It was here the book lost me.

Not a moment too soon, either.  Caprice is way too dependent on her family and what they think.  She even states that she wants a 'perfect' marriage like her parents or grandparents.  Really?  So her parents have never had a single argument?  Have always acted like roses and sunshine around each other?  No marriage is perfect, and I think Caprice needs to get the blinders removed from her eyes.  She's also 'breathless' over Grant like a teenager (maybe that's why she likes Roz so much).  She's an adult and is mooning over him.

She also didn't want to sell her small home and move into a bigger one with Grant so he could have room for a home office, so what does she do?  He's going to build an addition to the house.  His office will be...behind the garage.  Not an additional room onto the house itself, but behind it.  He doesn't even rate having an office in the main part of the house.  She thinks this is a compromise (!) for them.  No; no it's not.  It's Caprice getting her way again, as in all things.  I would have liked to have seen them start their new life together in a new home.  Selling both their places could have given them enough to do so.  After all, I'm guessing Grant has furniture, too.  Is he going to sell all his stuff?  Because it won't all fit in one room, and Caprice's house isn't that big.  (Whatever are they going to do if they have children?  Just keep on adding additions?)

I'm also slightly suspicious about her family and wondering if her sisters are going along with them on their honeymoon, since she does everything she can with her family.  One sister is even making her dress because she couldn't find a vintage gown.  I guess she never heard of the Internet.  Out of curiosity, I searched and even found ones near my home.  I'm also wondering if Bella has had 'the talk' with her about her wedding night.  It's just so weird that she won't make a move without them, and I've noticed this in other books but always let it pass.  I had to laugh out loud when I read about her gown, "the sweetheart neckline did not show cleavage."  Really?  (I'm saying that a lot here).  She's afraid to let anyone know she possesses breasts?  That will make her wedding night interesting.  Caprice is a prude!

Unfortunately, I think I've given enough of my opinions of this book, which is corn on the cob of the worst kind.  The mystery wasn't enough to hold the book together - it was more of a device to further solidify the relationship between Roz and Vince.  Caprice is childish, boring, selfish, and self-centered.  Grant is practically non-existent unless he’s fawning over Caprice and doing everything she wants.  It’s like he’s got no mind of his own.   This series used to be so good but I'm guessing this is the last one; it just became so saccharine that it was difficult to read.  It was a sad ending to what once was a good series.  If it does by any chance continue, I will not read another.

https://www.amazon.com/Cut-Chaise-Caprice-Luca-Mystery/dp/1496709799/ref=

Goodreads:  https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/2776137637

More on Karen Rose Smith's Books:  https://www.fantasticfiction.com/s/karen-rose-smith/

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Better Than Nun (A Giulia Driscoll Mystery #6)

Author:  Alice Loweecey
Genre:   Mystery

Hardcover; Trade Paperback; Digital Book
ISBN #:  9781635114829; 9781635114799
Henery Press Publishing
284 Pages
$31.95; $15.95; $4.99 Amazon
May 21, 2019

✮✮✮✮✮


Giulia Driscoll used to say running a detective agency was the busiest job she'd ever had.  Then the ghosts showed up, and she figured now she's the busiest er.  This of course challenged the Universe to say, "Hold my beer."

Today she's running the agency, sleuthing on behalf of the ghosts, and being the mother of a two-month-old.  At last she understands those 5-Hour energy commercials.

The Universe then dropped two clients in her lap for Mardi Gras: a family greedy to find hidden money and the son of her least-favorite person, Ken Kanning of The Scoop.  The positive: a date night!  The not-so-positive: it's a working date night.  Driscoll Investigations is joining the big Mardi Gras costume charity gala to search for potential thieves.  Kanning Junior will be at the party showing off his tame ghost.

The Scoop, a few hundred drunk revelers, a mercenary family, and a ghost who isn't as tame as the kid thinks.  What could possibly go wrong?

Did someone just hear the Universe say, "Hold my beer"?

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Ex-nun Giulia Driscoll is a new mom of a two-month-old son and owns DI Investigations, which has just taken a strange turn...it seems Giulia has the ability to communicate with ghosts.  Still new to this fact and adjusting, she's set ground rules for when they can contact her, and so far, they've agreed to abide by them.

But then she gets a bigger surprise: Ken Kanning of The Scoop has arrived on her doorstep and wants to hire her.  She dislikes him, and he knows it.  But he needs her help with his 11-year-old son, Kord.  It seems Kord has created a whiteboard that he uses to communicate with the dead.  At least that's what it appears to his viewers on YouTube.  Seeing the video, Giulia reluctantly agrees to help.  But what she learns isn't what she expects at all.

Then, two other clients show up at her office wanting to hire her team to find out where their late relative hid money in a home.  A home that's infested with creepy items everywhere, most of them supposedly haunted.  It will be decorated for Mardi Gras, and it's DI's job to come in costume and try to ferret out where the cash is hidden and also keep greedy guests away from stealing anything.  Again, Giulia gets a bigger surprise than she expected - and she thought just seeing the house of horrors itself was a surprise.

She also learns that Kord and his friend Shiloh will be at the gathering.  Shiloh is Kord's babysitter, and distraught at the sudden death of her father.  She's using the board to contact him, but even Kord doesn't know to what extent she's gone to get her father back in her life.  Giulia knows Shiloh may be in trouble, but won't accept her help.  All these things are connected, and Giulia is about to find out how, when she attends the party.

But the biggest surprise is yet to be revealed, and it's more than she either wants or expects, but with the help of her team and a few tricks of her own up her sleeve, Giulia has plans to take down any thieves she encounters and protect her clients as best she can, not realizing that it's her own self that might need the protecting most...

This series is one of the most interesting that I've encountered, and getting more so each time I read it.  Giulia is once again finding out that her life is becoming far too interesting and she's not sure how to handle it.  She'd rather spend her days as a new mother, but it isn't to be so.  She's now got several clients on her hands, and she's not fond of any of them.

It's no secret she dislikes Ken Kanning, believing The Scoop no more than a gossip magazine.  While Kanning knows this, he still wants his son to have her help, since the boy wants to get into a prestigious school and needs the exposure to do so.  Her other clients are unlikable as well.  Owen is greedy, nasty and snide; his aunt Blossom is snippy. 

What follows is a dark tale of greed, ghosts, and Giulia adjusting to her newfound abilities.  While it has its light moments, it's an intense tale that keeps you riveted to the page as you follow Giulia navigating her way through the chaos that ensues when she finds herself in the middle of the surreal diorama before her.

The tale is an esoteric one that draws you in almost from the first scene, and is extremely difficult to put down.  For those who are faint of heart or dislike creepy dolls, I suggest you read this during the daytime.  Reading it at night probably won't do much for a restful sleep.

However, it is masterfully written, tightly woven, and the threads of the tale start at the beginning and slowly weave together until you reach the end.  The surprises don't end until nearly the very last page, and they're worth waiting for, so do not be tempted to peek and find out the outcome ahead of time.  I loved the story and am anxiously waiting for the next installment, which I hope will be soon.  Highly recommended.

https://www.amazon.com/Better-Than-Giulia-Driscoll-Mystery/dp/1635114799/ref=

Goodreads:  https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/2775130638

More on Alice Loweecey's Books:  https://www.fantasticfiction.com/l/alice-loweecey/

Shelved Under Murder (A Blue Ridge Library Mystery #2)

Author:  Victoria Gilbert Genre:   Mystery Hardcover; Trade Paperback; Digital Book ISBN #:  9781683315957; 9781683319207 Crooked Lane ...