Friday, June 28, 2019

Ditched 4 Murder (A Sophie Kimball Mystery #2)

Author:  J. C. Eaton
Genre:   Mystery

Mass Market Paperback; Digital Book
ISBN #:  9781496708571
Kensington Publishing
352 Pages
$7.19; $5.99 Amazon
November 28, 2017



Moving from Minnesota to Arizona was a big change for Sophie "Phee" Kimball.  She's much closer to her mother's retirement community now - which can drive her a little crazy, but at least her mom, Harriet, has her book club and her chiweenie dog, Streetman, to keep her company.  And now there's even more activity, with Aunt Ina's upcoming wedding.  The seventy-four-year-old bride has roped Phee into working on the tent, the pastries, and even her headpiece in preparation for the ceremony.  But it's Harriet who really gets demanding when a dead body turns up yards from her front door.

Aunt Ina's fiancé is acquainted with the victim - a local millionaire restaurateur murdered at the golf course.  Working for a private investigator, Phee is drawn into the case - not just professionally but personally, since Harriet is in a panic about her safety.  With a killer on the loose, Phee vows to figure out the plot - that is, if her side job as a wedding planner doesn't kill her first...


Sophie "Phee" Kimball moved from Mankato, Minnesota's dreadful winters to sunny Arizona to work for a private investigator she's known for years.  In fact, when he was a police officer, she worked with him in the department, and he coaxed her to take a year off and see if she liked it enough to stay.

Her life is settling in nicely when she finds out her 74-year-old aunt Ina is getting married and needs her help.  Ina's aflutter with the wedding and wants Phee to help with the pastries.  But it doesn't end there.  Then she's roped into one more thing, and one more...

Her boss Nate has taken the case of a dead golfer that the police have deemed suspicious, and Phee discovers that  Ina's fiancé Louis knew the man. Then the chef who's catering the meal is murdered, and Phee stumbles across the body.  While that should be the end of it, it isn't.  When an item belonging to the chef turns up in Louis's garage and Louis goes missing, her aunt becomes frantic, the police are interested, her mother's getting hysterical, and all Phee wants to do is get sleep...

I read the first in the series and really liked it, even with Harriet being an overbearing mother.  But this second one, while amusing in the beginning, has begun to turn sour in the middle of the book.  Phee has no backbone.  None at all.

She's roped into helping with the wedding preparations, even though she doesn't want to - it begins as merely helping with the pastries and before she knows it everyone is coming to her to make decisions, because Ina is "just too unsettled" to do it herself.  What I get out of it is the fact her aunt wants to get married, has an idea of what she wants, but doesn't want to do anything to get there.

Phee won't tell anyone 'no'.  When her mother says jump, she asks 'how high?'  When her mother's friends call for help, she gives up her own private time to do as they ask.  When it got to the point that Aunt Ina woke her at 3 am and demanded she show up at Louis's home (regardless of the reason it could have been done after 10 pm and before midnight) - I was completely pissed.  Let someone - anyone - try that with me and see how far it goes.  She should have told her that she had a job and needed sleep, and wasn't going to do it.  She also should have told her that to take her mind off of Louis being gone she could take over planning her own wedding.  But she didn't.

I honestly had to put the book down after this.  You read to enjoy, to relax - and it's difficult to relax when you're disgusted with the characters in a book.  I didn't even care who the murderer was at this point; I just wanted to see Harriet and Ina falling off a cliff.  Seriously.  I needed time to decide if I wanted to continue with this book, because I absolutely detest women who have no backbone.

I was so perturbed I just wanted the book to end.  I also wanted Phee to go back home and get away from her family.  You've heard of mama's boys?  Well, Phee is a mama's girl.  And that's not a good thing.  Not only when her mother and aunt tell her to do stuff, but her mother's friends, she does them - even when she has plans of her own.  How spineless is this woman?  Also, how do all these women have Phee's number - they're not relatives! - and why are they calling her for problems?  They should be calling Ina, not expecting Phee to be their personal emissary and wedding planner.  Are they all like Harriet, expecting Phee to do things for them with no return? 

Truthfully, I can't stand her mother nor her aunt.  What kind of people are they that they're treating Phee like she's a slave?  What nice things have they done for her?  As a matter of fact, what have Harriet's friends ever done for Phee that's nice?  What does Phee's mother do that shows she loves Phee?  Nothing.  She treats her like unpaid help.  Is this supposed to be hilarious?

After writing down these thoughts, I decided to let the comments stand (I've never been shy about the truth) and finish the book.  I will say that while I don't like any of these obnoxious people - who, I believe, are supposed to be hilarious as "old people" - I am glad I finished it.  Once we got to the day of the wedding the real plot finally picked up.  I say 'real' because most of the plot centered on Ina's wedding that she wasn't doing anything for and Phee having to take care of it because obviously, these people are all afraid of Ina going off the deep end and have no problem pushing everything onto her niece.  This is not humorous, it only shows that these women are not people you'd want to spend any time with for fear they'd have you walking their dogs or taking out their trash.  Luckily, I know older people who are a real delight to be around; they can handle problems on their own.

Anyway, once we got to the gist of the story - the wedding - things started to come together and add up.  Phee and her boss Nate are lucky enough to be around when the truth comes out, and even though the wedding turns out to be a disaster (you'll see if you haven't read the book; it's another episode that's supposed to be funny but really isn't) it all ends well and Phee can get back to her life and relax for awhile. 

All in all, it wasn't a bad story and I will probably read the next just to see if Phee ever stands up to her mother or remains an invertebrate.  A decent story (if frustrating) that can be read in an evening.


More on J. C. Eaton's Books:

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

A Dark and Stormy Murder (A Writer's Apprentice Mystery #1)

Author:  Julia Buckley
Genre:   Mystery

Mass Market Paperback; Audio CD; Digital Book
ISBN #:  9780425282601; 9781977353177
Berkley Publishing
304 Pages
$7.99; $22.81; $7.99 Amazon
July 5, 2016

Camilla Graham's bestselling suspense novels inspired Lena London to become a writer, so when she lands a job as Camilla's new assistant, she can't believe her luck.  Not only will she help her idol craft an enchanting new mystery, she'll get to live rent-free in Camilla's gorgeous Gothic home in the quaint town of Blue Lake, Indiana.

But Lena's fortune soon changes for the worse.  First, she lands in the center of small-town gossip for befriending the local recluse.  Then, she stumbles across one thing that a Camilla Graham novel is never without - a dead body, found on her new boss's lakefront property.

Now, Lena must take a page out of one of Camilla's books to hunt down clues in a real crime that seems to be connected to the novelist's mysterious estate - before the killer writes them both out of the story for good...


Lena London is a recent grad-school graduate with no job, no boyfriend, and nothing to look forward to.  That is, until her friend Allison calls her and tells her that Lena's idol, writer Camilla Graham, is in her knitting class and needs an assistant.  Lena is over the moon, and after a telephone interview with the author, is hired on the spot.

But Lena's not going to find it all peaches and cream.  She meets a reclusive, rude neighbor, and later on finds a dead body on the beach in front of Camilla's home.  Now she's stuck in the middle of a murder investigation and wondering what it is that makes the neighbor so attractive to her.  But will she find out before the killer finds her?...

I should have known right away about this book when the author (no offense intended) mentioned she loved Mary Stewart books.  Mary Stewart, for those who do not know, wrote Gothic mysteries.  To wit:  a young, innocent woman stumbles into suspense and terror, and there is always a dark, brooding stranger that's hiding secrets but turns out to be 'the one' when All Is Discovered.

So...this is just like that.  The 'dark, brooding stranger' turns out to be Sam West, who may or may not be married because his wife just...disappeared, and everyone in town (including the hunky Chief of Police) think he's guilty.  So of course, Lena decides that romance with Sam would be so much better than the upstanding, cute, loyal, Doug.  Why would you even get involved with someone who might still have a wife somewhere?  Lena is stupid.

Not to mention, Sam was extremely rude to her when they met.  That's his personality.  If a man has it in him to be nasty to a perfect stranger (regardless of his past) then who's to say he's not going to snap at you at some point in the future?  No thanks.  I also didn't like Sam at all.  Doug seemed so much nicer, and more realistic.

Unfortunately, I lost interest in the book right about the time Lena is having breakfast in a crowded cafe and Sam, seeing she's alone, just goes over to her table and sits with her, knowing how the town feels about him.  For some reason he doesn't care that she's new in town, and association with him could taint her with the same brush (if these people are that nasty, they would think the worst of her, too).

Also, why were people calling everyone else by their first and last names?  Did the author need the word count?  It got annoying fast.  Since there was only one Sam and one Lena, did she think we’d get them confused with other characters?  One can only hope Sam’s wife comes back and they move somewhere else, but I don’t think so.  I’m honestly sorry I even started this book.  There’s two hours of my life I’ll never get back.  

But the worst part was - this is the first in the series and the author ends on a cliffhanger!  Or as I call it, holding the reader hostage.  It’s as if authors think they won’t sell the second in the series if they don’t do this.  This isn’t a TV show where you can see what happens next week - it’s a freaking book, and you might have to wait a year to see what happens.  Then, what’s to stop the author from doing it in the next book?  Or the next?  Nope.  I not only won’t read any more in this series, I won’t read any of the author’s other series, either.  Once you pull the 'you-have-to-buy-the-next-book-to-find-out-what-happens' at the end of a book, you’ve lost this reader for good.

Luckily, I don’t care enough about the characters to even care what happens to them.  Lena's an immature idiot (throwing nuts at Doug because she's upset?); Sam's boring and too broody, Camilla's only there as a plot point, and the poor cat Lestrade is just there - Lena spends very little time with him, and he has practically no reason to be in the book at all.  The only one remotely interesting is Doug, who's halfway intelligent, and Lena’s too dumb to figure it out.


More on Julia Buckley's Books:

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Murder By the Book (A Beyond the Page Bookstore Mystery #1)

Author:  Lauren Elliott
Genre:   Mystery

Mass Market Paperback; Audio CD; Digital Book
ISBN #:  9781496720191; 9781977365217
Kensington Publishing
286 Pages
$7.99; $16.50; $5.99 Amazon
October 30, 2018

Addie Greyborne loved working with rare books at the Boston Public Library - she even got to play detective, tracking down clues about mysterious old volumes.  But she didn't expect her sleuthing skills to come in so handy in a little seaside town...

Addie left some painful memories behind in the big city, including the unsolved murder of her fiancé and her father's fatal car accident.  After an unexpected inheritance from a great aunt, she's moved to a small New England town founded by her ancestors back in colonial times - and living in spacious Greyborne Manor, on a hilltop overlooking the harbor.  Best of all, her aunt also left her countless first editions and other treasures - providing an inventory to start her own store.

But there's trouble from day one, and not just from the grumpy woman who runs the bakery next door.  A car nearly runs Addie down.  Someone steals a copy of Alice in Wonderland.  Then, Addie's friend Serena, who owns a nearby tea shop, is arrested - for killing another local merchant.  The police seem pretty sure they've got the story in hand, but Addie's not going to let them close the book on this case without a fight...


Addie Greyborne moves from Boston to a small town after a couple of tragedies in her life.  First, her fiancé David is murdered, then her father has a fatal car accident, and she believes it wasn't really an accident.  It seems fortuitous when she receives an inheritance from a recently deceased relative and is given the means to move away.

After finding many rare editions and used books in the Victorian home she's inherited, she decides to open a bookstore.  But on her first day, her back door has nearly been forced open, someone has taken a copy of Alice in Wonderland (non-valuable), there's a car following her, she's nearly run down, and someone breaks into her home.  The 'accidents' don't stop, either.  Her keys go missing, a car is parking in her driveway at night...well, you get the idea.  She's also met two of her new business neighbors, one doesn't like her and the other, Serena, takes to her immediately.

It seems someone in this town wants her gone, and even if the police don't take it seriously (they think it's just "coincidences"), she knows it's true.  It doesn't help when Serena is arrested for murder, and Addie knows her new friend couldn't be guilty so is determined to find the killer.  But with someone obviously out to get her, will she have time to prove Serena's innocence?

I really wanted to like this book because I thought the premise sounded good.  But it's never good if you fall asleep out of boredom while reading...during the middle of the day.  Yeah.  It's unfortunate, but there it is.

First, I don't understand why the police couldn't put two and two together about David and her father.  One murdered and another has a fatal accident a short time later?  Her father was run off the road.  There would be indications he didn't leave the roadway voluntarily, and the police should have noticed that right away.  But they didn't.  Then, her business and her home is vandalized, and there's a car watching her every move.  The police should have found this odd.  But they didn't.

Then, when Serena was arrested, Marc, the chief of police, should have turned the case over to someone else, because he was her brother.  But he didn't.  Addie had a rich relative in a town named after her family, and she should have known something about her heritage.  But she didn't.  It seems to me there are an awful lot of "didn't's" in this story.

Also, why didn't (there's that word again) Addie know any of the other business owners?  She never went and introduced herself?  She also didn't spend any time at her business, so how did she stay open?  She was always off doing something else.  I also thought Addie was unlikable.  With all the tragedy in her life, she acted like she wasn't grieving at all.  It had been a short time and she was just going to move on with her life, even be ready for a new romance.  This didn't ring true.

When Addie explains to Marc how Blain must have died, and that Serena couldn't have committed the murder, it makes sense.  So I have to wonder - again - why the DA's office and the investigating officers couldn't have figured this out and realized that Serena must have been telling the truth.  No DA's office worth their salt would have prosecuted her if the defending attorney could show how ridiculous it looks in a court of law (and, after reading it, it does sound ridiculous).

Honestly, I got as far as the petition to revoke her business license because 'she brought crime with her' and threw up my hands.  What kind of morons live in this town?  Not even the criminals were very smart - they couldn't find what they'd been looking for, but Addie found it almost immediately after thinking about it for a few minutes. 

In the end, I feel I need to say it:  1) if you see someone looking at where you put the keys to your shop, don't leave them there again.  2) if someone is breaking into your home/business, get the locks changed.  Now.  Install a security system.  Today.  3) Keep your phone charged - if you can see a car, you can probably take a picture of it to show the police.  Shouldn't someone from the "Big City" have more common sense than this?  She sure didn't. 

All in all, this isn't a series I will be seeking out again.  Unfortunately I read it.  I wish I didn't.


More on Lauren Elliott's Books:

Monday, June 24, 2019

Full Bodied Murder (A Rose Avenue Wine Club Mystery #1)

Author:  Christine E. Blum
Genre:   Mystery

Mass Market Paperback; Digital Book
ISBN #:  9781496712103
Kensington Publishing
$7.99; $5.99 Amazon
November 28, 2017


Leaving behind a failed marriage, New Yorker Annie "Halsey" Hall is ready to begin the next phase of her life in coastal Southern California.  From the moment she arrives at her new digs on cozy Rose Avenue, she looks forward to joining the neighborhood ladies for their weekly Wine Club gathering. With only a rambunctious yellow lab puppy to keep her company, Halsey could really use a confidant - and a glass or two of her favorite white wine...

Unfortunately, she finds nothing but red at the Wine Club meeting - and judging by the dead woman lying face down in the backyard, it's not spilled Merlot.  Halsey accidentally stumbled into the wrong address at the wrong time, and with suspicions about her past on the rise, she must prove that she isn't a killer.  Enlisting the eclectic talents of the Wine Club ladies, Halsey searches for the true criminal at large.  But separating friends from foes isn't easy on Rose Avenue, and as she racks up a suspect list, Halsey can't shake the feeling that someone in her inner circle has a taste for murder...


Annie "Halsey" Hall has just made major changes in her life:  she's left her husband behind in New York and packed up her vehicle with her belongings and her lab Bardot for sunny California.  She's happy (mostly) to be starting a new life.

But when she accidentally walks in a home and finds a dead body in the back yard, the police are watching her very closely because they think she's a killer.  Now she's hoping that her hostile neighbor will leave her alone and her new friends will help her figure out who killed Rosa so she can start her life, not wind up in jail before it begins...

Okay, I should have known when the tone of the book was set almost immediately - the fact that 'Halsey' wanted to move in on a Wednesday so she could get started with her drinking in her new wine club.  If this had been stated on the blurb, I would have passed the book on by.

Now, there's nothing wrong with a glass or two of wine, and I know many people drink.  But these women have made a job of it.  They drink.  A lot.  Yet for some weird reason, they have no health problems.  They don't have hangovers (except in a minor reference), no slurred speech, etc.   I kept waiting for one of the older women to show loss of brain function or tell us that she needed a liver transplant. Geez, have a glass of water or iced tea once in a while.  I also didn't much care for the fact that Halsey had no problem spending money on booze but wouldn't shell out for a few bags of candy for kids on Halloween.  I guess she has her priorities.

Also, who just walks into a home with an open door if you’re not sure you have the right address?  What will you say if you encounter some guy sitting on the sofa in his underwear, or a couple of kids playing on the floor?  What will you say when they scream that a stranger is in the home?  (Especially if you're holding a couple of bottles of wine).  Stay outside, put the bottles down and check the address.  What a nimrod. No wonder the cops are suspicious.

Then, the police are suspecting her after only a few hours of being there (again, she moved here so she could have drinking buddies and hasn't even really moved in) of killing someone?  A quick check on her background - which could be done in a matter of hours - would show that she didn’t have time to kill anyone, didn’t know the woman, had no motive.  Move on, officers.  Find the real killer.

I didn’t like any of the women.  All they did was drink.  Just.  Drink.  We never got to know them as people.  None of them seemed to have anything in common except drinking; there didn't seem to be any camaraderie at all, no connection.  Surely there could have been a better plot line than women who like to sit around and get drunk.  Where is it?  Because it wasn't in this book.  Two stars for the writing, but I won't be continuing the series.

A Legacy of Murder (A Kate Hamilton Mystery #2)

Author:  Connie Berry
Genre:   Mystery

Hardcover; Digital Book
ISBN #:  9781643851549
Crooked Lane Books
$26.99; $12.99 Amazon
October 8, 2019


It's Christmastime and antiques dealer Kate Hamilton is off to visit her daughter, Christine, in the quaint English village of Long Barston.  Christine and her boyfriend, Tristan, work at stately-but-crumbling Finchley Hall.  Touring the Elizabethan house and grounds, Kate is intrigued by the docent's tales of the Finchley Hoard, and the strange deaths surrounding the renowned treasure trove.  But next to a small lake, Kate spies the body of a young woman, killed by a garden spade.

Nearly blind Lady Barbara, who lives at Finchley with her loyal butler, Mugg, persuades Kate to take over the murdered woman's work.  Kate finds that a Burmese ruby has vanished from the legendary Blood-Red Ring, replaced by a lesser garnet.  Were the theft and the woman's death connected?

Kate learns that Lady Barbara's son fled to Venezuela years before, suspected of murdering another young woman.  The murder weapon belonged to an old gardener, who becomes the leading suspect.  But is Lady Barbara's son back to kill again?  When another body is found, the clues point toward Christine.  It's up to Kate to clear her daughter's name.


It's nearing Christmas and Kate Hamilton, an American antiques dealer, is visiting England to see both her daughter Christine and her new boyfriend Tom Mallory, a DI with the Suffolk police.  She's staying in a private room on the Finchley estate where her daughter works as an intern, and she, too, is housed there.  On this day she's taking a tour of the estate while Christine is in orientation.  But the tour is cut short when a young boy - who is on the tour along with his mother - discovers the body of a young woman in the pond.

It turns out the woman is Tabitha King, who also worked as an intern.  She was designing and preparing an exhibit on the estate - an exhibit of The Hoard, the Finchley treasure - which had only been seen as partial items on exhibit throughout the years.  This was to be the first time that the entire Hoard would be shown.

When Kate finally meets Christine's new boyfriend, Tristan Sorel, she takes an instant dislike to him, but says nothing to Christine, having realized that Christine was always attracted to men who were less than she thought they were, and she believed Tristan to be another of this ilk.

But then the lady of the manor, Barbara Finchley, is determined that the Hoard will be shown, because they've already sold tickets and the estate needs the funding.  When she discovers Kate's background in antiques, she eventually gets her to agree to take over Tabitha's job.  But it's not too long before Kate finds Tabitha's notes and discovers discrepancies; it seems pieces that should be in the group are not, and no one seems to know where they've gone to.

But there's more drama afoot when Tristan is pursued by Alex, who works at the estate.  She makes an overt play for him, and he doesn't resist very much.  Now, with Christine angry at both Tristan and Alex, a dead girl that's turned out not to be a suicide, and missing pieces from the collection, how will Kate find time to be with Tom while he's investigating a murder?  And is the murderer among them - one of the interns, an employee, or a mysterious stranger who's been traveling through town?  Kate's up to her ears in intrigue, and she needs to find out the truth before she's due to return home to spend Christmas with her mother...if she ever does...

This is the second book in the series and I have to say that I did like it much better than the first.  The author is finding her way and honing the characters, and we have more depth and feeling out of Kate than we did in the first book, so that's a good thing.

Following are a couple of plot points that bothered me, but I have hidden them in a spoiler for those who have not as yet read the book:

However, once I got past the annoying things, the book took a decent turn and I followed the clues along with Kate right down to the end of the book.  When the killer was revealed it was actually a bit of a surprise, but even in its being necessary, there is no excuse for murder to keep secrets hidden.

I will say of all the characters introduced in this book, I liked the one of Ivor Tweedy the best.  Although I knew from the beginning where the ending was going to go, he was such a whimsical character, full of exuberance of life.  I hope to see much more of him in later books.  All in all, I really did enjoy this book and hope to see the next in the series arrive soon.  Recommended.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

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 Amazon
September 10, 2019


Artist and spa owner Penny Brannigan has been asked to organize a formal dinner to mark the centenary of the armistice that ended World War One.  After dinner, the guests adjourn to the library for a private exhibition of the Black Chair, a precious piece of Welsh literary history awarded in 1917 to poet Hedd Wyn.  But to the guests' shock, the newly restored bardic chair is missing.  And then Penny discovers the rain-soaked body of a waiter.

When Penny learns that the victim was the nephew of one of her employees, she is determined to find the killer.  Meanwhile, the local police search for the Black Chair.  The Prince of Wales is due to open an exhibit featuring the chair in three weeks, so time is not on their side.  A visit to a nursing home to consult with an ex-thief convinces Penny that the theft of the Black Chair and the waiter's murder are connected.  She rushes to Dublin to consult a disagreeable antiquarian, who might know more than he lets on, and during the course of her investigation confronts a gaggle of suspicious travelers and an eccentric herbalist who seems to have something to hide.  Can Penny find the chair and the culprit before she is laid to rest in the green grass of Wales?


When Penny is asked by her friend Emyr to help plan a dinner party in order to show a select few the famed Welsh treasure, the Black Chair, she agrees.  With the help of several locals, everything seems to be going swimmingly.  She's also pleased that her young friend Lane is able to help as a server, and seems to be doing well, until he falls in the back pantry and spills drinks.  Although he insists he's fine, Penny's not so sure when Lane disappears.  And when the showing finally arrives, so does the Black Chair. 

But it doesn't stop there - a young waiter is found fatally injured, and so the house becomes a crime scene, and everyone is a suspect.  Worse still, they need to find the chair in three weeks' time, when the Prince of Wales is going to dedicate it where it will stand in a museum.  Penny also discovers that the dead waiter is the nephew of one of her employees, and the woman asks her to help find the killer.

Now Penny's on the trail of a missing chair, a missing young man, and a missing killer.  With the clock ticking against her, will she find the murderer or will he or she get away with stealing a national treasure and a killing?

This was basically a closed-door mystery without actually being closed-door.  To wit:  the murderer had to be someone in the home at the time of the theft of the chair, or a person who allowed the murderer to enter.  Thus, we set the stage for Penny to eliminate guests and decide who the murderer might be.

When she acknowledges that she knows nearly all the guests, we have it narrowed down quite quickly.  But then there's the sticking point of figuring out why the chair was targeted, and why the young man was murdered.  Thus begins the investigation.

However, a couple of things irritated me.  The host, Emyr, was an idiot.  He should never have allowed his guests to leave, instead telling them that the police would, in all likelihood, wish to speak with them before they went home.  But nooo  ---  he didn't want to inconvenience his guests, of course, so he'd rather lose a national treasure and possibly allow a murderer time to escape somewhere else.  I ask you, does this make any sense at all?  Anyone with any sense would know to keep their guests in the home, inconvenience be damned.  After all, it was a matter of time, and if any of them - including the servers - knew anything, one would think that the police would be able to tell from body language.  Honestly, the police didn't even seem to be really concerned that Lane was missing, which seemed odd as well. 

Even if they were townspeople, time is of the essence in a murder, and I have never known the police to be happy when people were just allowed to leave and go their own way - nor a host who would rather them do so than be upset with him.  I also didn't understand when, later on, he was upset that the forensics team was combing his house and grounds when a murder occurred.  What did he expect them to do?  Just say, 'oh, well, he'll be upset, and the killer may turn up eventually.'  One would think he'd want to be helpful to find the killer and the Black Chair, not be annoyed.

I have several of the Penny Brannigan mysteries, and while I admit that Penny is intelligent and knows what she's about, she's well, rather dull as a person.  There's no spark to her.  She was perfect to organize the evening as she's methodical, but she doesn't have any real life within her.  I can't imagine us being friends as she'd more than likely put me to sleep on a regular basis.  (Which is why I am glad the mysteries are well written!).

I also didn't understand why we were told that Penny was a 'fulfilled, independent woman' but then admitted how it would be nice to come home to someone; if she wants that, all she has to do is put herself out there and date once in a while.  Also, why was Gareth even in the book?  If she had no regrets about losing him, it seemed odd that he should appear in a couple of scenes.  There was also another person Penny was once fond of who showed up here, but this book seemed a bit to be about Penny burning bridges behind her.  Maybe others didn't notice, but I certainly did.  Either that, or the author was trying to show us how much better off Penny was 'without a man in her life.' 

Other than that, I felt the book was written well, and the plot was done nicely, too.  There weren't a lot of red herrings; but then there probably wasn't meant to be.  It was more that there were a number of threads which, when pulled upon, lead to even more threads, and all those threads finally wound up together to weave the story into a final fabric that came together in one piece. 

Once we discovered the reason for everything happening, you have to wonder why people think the way they do.  Every action has a consequence, and every consequence leads to another action on someone else's part.  It's an inescapable part of life; and in this case it lead to a tragic outcome that could have been prevented but wasn't.

All in all, the story kept me reading throughout the night, and I do like that; Penny is very clever and is able to hear one bit of information that leads her to several 'aha' moments, which is a good trait to have; and I liked the fact that she didn't run headlong into situations that could cause her danger.  She actually thought about her course of action before she decided to take it.  In the end, I liked the resolution to the story, and everything, of course, was tied up nicely.  Recommended.


More on Elizabeth J. Duncan's Books:

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Designs on Murder (A Ghostly Fashionista Mystery #1)

Author:  Gayle Leeson
Genre:   Mystery

Digital Book
Grace Abraham Publishing
212 Pages
$3.99 Amazon
March 26, 2019


Amanda Tucker is excited about opening her fashion design studio in Shops On Main, a charming old building in historic Abingdon, Virginia.  She didn't realize a ghost came with the property!  But soon Maxine "Max" Englebright, a young woman who died in 1930, isn't the on;y dead person at the retail complex.  Mark Tinsley, a web designer with a know-it-all attitude who also rented space at Shops On Main, is shot in his office.

Amanda is afraid that one of her new "friends" and fellow small business owners is his killer, and Max is encouraging her to solve Mark's murder a la Nancy Drew.  Easy for Max to want to investigate - the ghostly fashionista can't end up the killer's next victim!


Amanda Tucker lives in Abingdon, Virginia.  She's a twenty-four-year-old young woman with a recent business degree, and she's just concluded a disappointing job interview, realizing that she doesn't want to work in an office for the rest of her life.  Therefore, when she sees an 'available' sign in the window of a Victorian home that's been converted into shops, she decides then and there that she wants to follow her passion and open her own custom clothing shop, and goes to look at the empty space.  While there, she meets a young woman dressed like a flapper, who tells her that her name is Max - short for Maxine, and helps convince her that this would be perfect for her new venture.

After talking with her grandfather, Dave, he agrees and loans her the funds needed to begin her dream.  The owner, Mrs. Meacham, takes her around and introduces her to the other tenants, and it's not long after that when Amanda discovers that Max is a ghost - and she's the only one who can see or hear her.  But before she thinks she's losing her mind, she tells her grandfather, and when he comes to the shop, it turns out he can also hear and see Max...along with Amanda's cute cat, Jazzy. 

While she's ready to embark on her new career, it needs to be put temporarily on hold when one of the tenants is murdered.  While Max wants her to investigate, Amanda refuses to have anything to do with it.  Then she meets new tenant Jason, who's moving into the space recently vacated by the death.

Now Amanda is trying to make a go of her clothing business, trying to keep Max out of her love life, and trying to stay as far away from a killer as she can -- because Max is convinced, along with her grandfather -- that maybe one of her co-tenants might be a murderer, and she doesn't want to be next on the list...

This is the first book in a new series, and I'm pleased to say that I really enjoyed it.  Amanda honestly doesn't want to get involved in a murder investigation, which is a breath of fresh air, but she's being pushed by her new resident ghost Max.  Also, Amanda actually spends time in her shop and works, unlike a lot of other amateur sleuths, who always have time for investigating but never seem to be in their stores to actually do anything.

I also like the fact that she pays attention to her cat Jazzy - keeping her indoors instead of letting roam around outside, making sure she's fed and safe, etc.  This also pleases me, as I love cats and hate it when the protagonist just allows her pet to run wild, never caring if being outdoors can get her cat killed.  So that's several pluses to begin with.

I do like ghosts in books as long as they're not poltergeists and not boring.  Max is as vibrant as if she were living; as Grandpa Dave would say, she's a firecracker.  I love her personality and the fact that she says things that Amanda echoes without thinking.  It's pretty funny at times seeing Amanda flustered and trying to cover her tracks.

Although Jason wasn't in the book constantly, he shouldn't be because he has his own career to worry about, and again, I like the fact that he's a photographer and not the ubiquitous police officer who usually winds up as the love interest.  But I really like Dave, because after his wife's death he still manages to keep going as a carpenter and restoring furniture, and it shows that he's not going to be cantankerous, sit in a chair and watch television all day while offering advice about 'back in the day.' 

In other words, these are characters that are an integral part of bringing fresh eyes to a tried-and-true genre.  They make for a book that was a delight to read, because as much as the plot (which we'll get into in a minute) is good, the characters are what bring it all to life, and these characters are certainly different than the norm.

As to the plot, when the murder occurs, it seems that while everyone was surprised, only Amanda seemed outright nervous while everyone else was willing to sit back and let the police handle it.  But the police were basically a non-presence, and they weren't reassuring anyone that they had suspects in mind, so of course she'd be nervous.  When Amanda discovered that there was more to the murder than meets the eye, it propelled the story forward, because she didn't know which - if any - of her coworkers she could trust, so she didn't trust anyone except Max and Dave.

When the ending came it wasn't terribly climactic, but then again, I don't always care for nail-biting scenes all the time, anyway.  When the killer was revealed, it wasn't too much of a surprise, because the clues were there; but if you happened to miss any along the way, Amanda enumerated them shortly before the scene with the killer (as we knew there would be one) so it was pretty much laid forth for you, which was a nice touch.  The reason for the murder made sense in the mind of the murderer, for as anyone knows, some things are better left alone than to lose your life.

All in all, I found it a pleasing tale that was a decent introduction to a new series, and hopefully it will be around for a good long while.  I look forward to reading the next in the series.  Highly recommended.


More on Gayle Leeson's Books:

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Sprinkle with Murder (A Cupcake Bakery Mystery #1)

Author:  Jenn McKinlay
Genre:   Mystery

Mass Market Paperback; Paperback (LP); Audio CD; Digital Book
ISBN #:  9780425233429; 9781410426222; 9781520060941
Berkley Publishing
240 Pages
$7.99; [Various Prices]; $34.19; $7.99 Amazon
March 2, 2010


Melanie Cooper and Angie DeLaura are finally living out their dream as the proud owners of the Fairy Tale Cupcakes bakery.  But their first big client is a nightmare.  She's a bridezilla who wants 500 custom cupcakes for her wedding.

When Mel stumbles upon the bride-to-be dead-by-cupcake, she becomes the prime suspect.  To save themselves and their business, the ladies need to find the real murderer before the cupcake killer ices someone else.


Melanie Cooper is realizing her dream.  She's recently opened a cupcake bakery with her friends Angie DeLaura and Tate Harper.  Angie quit her job as a teacher to work in the restaurant, and Tate funded it.  Since they've known each other since middle school, they're pretty close, and always want each to be happy.

But both Mel and Angie are in a conundrum.  Tate's getting married, and they can't stand the bride-to-be.  Christie Stevens is a fashion designer and the worst bridezilla that anyone's ever heard of.  When Tate insists that they have Mel make their wedding cake (consisting of cupcakes, naturally), Christie shows up for the meeting late.  Then she insists that Mel make five different flavors - five new flavors that have never been done, and expects her to sign a lengthy agreement.  One that gives Christie full ownership of the flavors - which means that Mel can never make them again.  Ever.  Bristling at the thought that she's going to put a lot of work into this, she has Angie's brother Joe, who is an assistant district attorney, look over the agreement, but he finds it ironclad.

Not wanting to upset Tate, she does as she's asked, and turns the box of sweets over to two of Christie's assistants.  She then goes to Christie's shop the next day and finds her dead on the floor, with one of the cupcakes in her hand.  Now she's suspected of poisoning Christie to get rid of her, and Mel knows this is going to be a nightmare.

But how much so she's not prepared for.  To top it off, she has a rival baker driving by her shop several times daily, and the police are looking at Tate also, using the old tale of a love triangle gone wrong.  It doesn't help that her deluded mother thinks she's in love with Tate and might be guilty.  So Mel does the only thing she can - she sets out to discover who wanted Christie dead - but finds out that nearly everyone she's talked with is guilty of that.  So who did the deed?  And will she find out in time to save her business?

For the most part, I enjoyed reading this book.  The story line is interesting in that it's not only Mel who's being affected by the murder, but the people closest to her - her friends Angie and Tate.  Mel and Angie are as different as day and night; and while Angie has a hot temper, Mel is more level-headed and still has body issues which are put forth from time to time.

There's an easy camaraderie between the three, and none of them will believe the others capable of such a heinous crime.  Still, eventually secrets will come out, and they invariably do, and while it doesn't change their attachment to one another, it does change them in other ways.  It also doesn't help that Mel is having feelings about Joe, even when there's time she wants him to just go away and leave her alone.

While I knew the murderer the minute the person stepped onto the page (I read a lot of these), it didn't keep me from enjoying the book one whit; however, what I didn't like was the fact that  it seemed the women in the book to be lacking in character.  Angie is quick with her fists; Mel's mother is deluded on Mel's love life and thinks her capable of murder; a rival business owner is as nasty as they come; etc.  It doesn't portray any woman in a favorable light, including Mel's aforementioned self-esteem issues.

Also, Christie's father did something truly reprehensible and there was no comeuppance - not even an apology; and Mel should have, at the very least, gotten a restraining order against the rival business owner.  Unfortunately, neither of these things happened in this book, but maybe they will in the next.

I likewise didn't understand why Mel didn't sit her mother down and have it out with her.  She didn't get angry that her mom thought she was capable of murder, and she could have (if she tried)  convinced her mom that she wasn't romantically interested in Tate.  But she basically just shrugged her shoulders and allowed her mom to be deluded.  (Maybe if she had convinced her that she didn't love Tate, her mom might not have believed her capable of murder?)  My conclusion is that Mel's self-esteem has been battered so hard by her past she's afraid that her mom won't love her if she yells at her or demands she listens.  It's a rather co-dependent relationship - and that's not good for anyone.

When the ending comes it might not have been a nail-biting climax, and it was a bit funny to boot, but still was a refreshing way to catch a killer.  All in all, not a bad start to a new series, and I will probably read the next, because while it wasn't a thought-provoking book nor terribly deep, it was a quick read, and since it's the first in the series, I am sure the author will tweak it here and there.


More on Jenn McKinlay's Books:

Monday, June 10, 2019

Pride, Prejudice and Poison (A Jane Austen Society Mystery #1)

Author:  Elizabeth Blake
Genre:   Mystery

Hardcover; Digital Book
ISBN :  9781683315742
Crooked Lane Books
336 Pages
$26.99; $12.99 Amazon
August 13, 2019


Erin Coleridge's used book store in Kirkbymoorside, North Yorkshire, England is a meeting place for the villagers and, in particular, for the local Jane Austen Society.  At the Society's monthly meeting, matters come to a head between the old guard and its young turks.  After the meeting breaks for tea, persuasion gives way to murder - with extreme prejudice - when president Sylvia Pemberthy falls dead to the floor.  Poisoned?  Presumably...but by whom?  And was Sylvia the only target?

Handsome - but shy - Detective Inspector Peter Hadley and charismatic Sergeant Rashid Harral arrive at the scene.  The long suspect list includes Sylvia's lover Kurt Becker and his tightly wound wife Suzanne.  Or, perhaps. the killer was Sylvia's own cuckolded husband, Jerome.  Among the many society members who may have had her in their sights is dashing Jonathan Alder, who was heard having a royal battle of words with the late president the night before.

Then, when Jonathan Alder narrowly avoids becoming the next victim, Farnsworth (the town's "cat lady") persuades a seriously time-crunched Erin to help DI Hadley.  But the killer is more devious than anyone imagines.


Erin Coleridge owns a used book store in Kirkbymoorside, North Yorkshire, England.  Her social life is pretty much centered around the members of the Jane Austen Society.  This evening there is a particularly contentious meeting causing arguments between the president, Sylvia Pemberthy, and some of the more vocal members.

But no one expects that at the next meeting Sylvia will fall ill and die - poisoned - and that one of the members will be suspected of the murder.  When the police have Erin's best friend Farnsworth in their sights, she promises to investigate and find the killer.  Even though she's warned away, it's not enough to keep her from searching.  But will she find the killer or will the killer find her first?

This book started out well enough - a group of people who come together through their love of Jane Austen, but it got rather confusing almost immediately.  From the description of Sylvia (which wasn't much) I supposed that such a harridan would be elderly; imagine my surprise when I discovered that she wasn't old at all.

Then there's Erin, who's strange, to say the least.  She wears thick black glasses (only sometimes, so her eyes can't be that bad), which got me wondering why, if she's comfortably set enough to open her bookstore when she feels like it, she hasn't gotten a pair of attractive glasses or contact lenses?  Who on earth would willingly wear thick black glasses if they were given other options?  And in these days, there are plenty of other options.  She pretty much dresses dowdy - yoga pants (!) and pulls her hair up in a mess on her head.  Must be fun combing all the knots out at night.  Yes, I'm being harsh, but really, there's no excuse for laziness, and that's all it is.  I began to wonder if she was the only young woman in the village, since men were attracted to her - yoga pants, messy hair, black glasses, no makeup.  She doesn't even have any friends her own age.  All I was seeing was someone who was too lazy to look their best when they left the house.  Sadly, she will never be a favorite character of mine.

I also got tired of people constantly quoting Jane Austen.  I get that the book is the Jane Austen Society, but I imagined it would be a group of people trying to solve a murder, not people who strive to 'out-quote-Austen' each other.  It got tedious after awhile, and I began to wonder if they were home re-reading all six of her novels, trying to find quotes no one else had said yet, and underlining those they'd already used.  Eventually they'll run of lines to quote to each other.  (Yes, I love Jane Austen, but this was starting to get on my nerves).

Then, Erin supposedly likes DI Hadley but kisses Jonathan in a public setting.  Say what?  Was that supposed to put him at ease?  Please, please don't give us a love triangle.  I've said it many times before:  I absolutely abhor them.

I guess the big thing is I never got invested in any of the characters - Erin is lazy, not taking the time to make herself look decent and only opening her store when she's bored; she wasn't even online selling books, so I can't imagine how she makes a living.  DI Hadley seemed nice enough, but there was no (very little) background, so how old is he?  How long has he been an officer?  We didn't even find out his hair color until later in the book.  From his initial description at the hotel, I thought he also was an older man.  Physical descriptions should be one of the first things given in a book, and there were very few.  Plenty on how people dressed, but few on their physicality.

The mystery itself was fine, and Erin is another one of those amateur sleuths who just walks up to people and questions them about the murder, not even trying to be inconspicuous about it.  It was only a matter of time before someone tried to kill her. 

In the end, I felt as if there were more to be written - the book felt unfinished to me.  The murder was solved and everything was tied up nicely, but it just  Like there should have been a continuation of the last few pages that never came.  I will say that the ending really makes the book.  And because of this, I wasn't enthralled with this one.  While I may or may not continue with this series, it will certainly depend on whether I feel that it has any great potential.


More on Elizabeth Blake's Books:

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Telephone Line (The Country Club Murders Book 9)

Author:  Julie Mulhern
Genre:   Mystery

Hardcover; Trade Paperback; ; Audio CD; Digital Book
ISBN #: 9781635115505; 9781635115475; 9781515963738
Henery Press [Tantor Audio]
304 Pages
$31.95; $15.95; $; $24.99; $6.99
June 18, 2019


A killer is calling, and Ellison's life is on the line.

Ellison Russell is planning the event of the season -- and she's stressed.  Why not yoga?

Because the yoga instructor gets murdered during class -- and Ellison's stress level rises exponentially.  Now, in addition to raising a ridiculous amount of money, she's babysitting for a deranged cat (named after the devil himself), taking ten million phone calls (most of them from Mother), and finding more bodies (they're popping up like dandelions after a spring rain).

There's no such thing as balance when the killer makes it personal.  Can Ellison catch a murderer or will her namaste be her last?


Ellison Russell is an artist and mother who lives in 1975 Kansas City - before cell phones, computers, and the Internet.  This was a time when people actually had to communicate with each other by talking on the phone or visiting in person.  No selfies, no Instagram, no Facebook.  It was a time when people actually had relationships with other people, and didn't have thousands of 'friends' that they'd never met.

Ellison is a well-to-do young widow who's doing her best to raise her teenage daughter Grace and cope with her overbearing, social-conscious mother.  She's attending a yoga class at her friend Winnie Flournoy's home to de-stress and the instructor, Marigold, has told everyone to relax and wind down.  Ellison has had enough of winding down and just wants to leave.  But she can't, because Marigold has locked them in.

After calling for help from a passing elderly neighbor, Ellison is wondering why, instead of letting them out, the neighbor leaves and runs from the home.  Elderly.  Runs.  This can't be good.  But surprise turns to resignation when she hears the sirens and sees her boyfriend, homicide detective Anarchy Jones, arrive.  It turns out that Marigold is dead, and once again Ellison is involved in murder.

Ellison wants to stay out of the murder but can't.  Her late husband was worse than anyone ever knew.  He kept secret files of people - people he was blackmailing, and Lark Flournoy was one of his victims.  She wonders if something in those files might tell her why someone was killed in Lark's home...

However, things don't end there.  When Ellison gets home, her mother calls (the grapevine in this city is admirable) and asks her about finding another body, practically insinuating that Ellison does it on purpose.  After she gets her mother off the phone, someone is at her door, and she's surprised to discover it's the mother of Grace's best friend Debbie.

Martha Clayton wants to know about Grace being at a bar on Saturday with Debbie, and Ellison gives her an alibi (Grace was with her all night), but Martha, distraught about Debbie, leaves unsaid things hanging in the air and leaves - and Ellison is determined to ferret out the truth from Grace.

She also is hosting a dinner for her new neighbor Jennifer, who has moved from California to Kansas City with her husband.  Jennifer appears to be some sort of hippie, while Marshall is rarely home, being a pharmaceutical salesman, so there goes Ellison's last hope of getting any rest that night.

Ellison is also chairing a gala for an art exhibit at the museum and gets a phone call from her mother Frances who demands she 'raise the stakes'.  It seems the other cities where the event was held all raised a million dollars, while Ellison has raised a paltry three hundred fifty thousand.  Never mind that they are larger, coastal cities.  Frances Walford will not be thought a yokel, and demands Ellison do something, and right now. 

When another murder occurs, Ellison is getting suspicious, because she's the only one who knows (courtesy of Henry's files) that the two might be connected.  She knows she should tell Anarchy, but for obvious reasons doesn't want him - or her daughter - to know how vile Henry was.  Only she and her attorney Hunter Tafft are aware of the nefarious practice.

Then Lark is run down by a car while leaving work.  Anarchy calls and tells her, asking if she'll stay with Winnie.  Just as things seem they can't get any worse, they do.  When Ellison leaves the table for a moment, Winnie collapses, and it's later discovered she was poisoned.

Ellison  wants to know what's going on.  The problem is the killer doesn't want her to find out...

This is the ninth book in the series and just as much fun to read as the first.  Although this book touches on the subject of rape and its aftermath on the victims, it is interwoven with lively banter between Ellison, her family, and her friends regarding murder - mainly because Ellison seems to always be in the center of it.

There are also a few hilarious scenes, one in particular involving a strange Jell-O mold made by Jennifer that Ellison and Grace are forced to eat, and dinner table conversation that is priceless - mostly by Grace.  (Whom, coincidentally, is rapidly developing the same dry wit as her mother).  I may never eat Jell-O again.

We also have the relationship between Ellison and Anarchy ready to reach a new stage in development.  Ellison is an extremely strong woman, but in one area she's extremely vulnerable, and it is this that is focused upon (and it's about time).

Watching Ellison find the clues and put them all together is fascinating.  She takes each piece of the puzzle and tries it one way, then another, and then at last another until she figures out where it's supposed to go.  It's a delightful romp of a tale, pulling the reader in from the first page that leaves you holding on tight until you reach the end. 

The use of wordplay is paramount, and it conveys more than any descriptions (of which there are many) could do.  It is the crux of the story, the heart of who these people are.  And it's winsome, lively, and thoroughly delicious.  Ellison is no fool, nor is she foolish, and she can hold her own with the best of them (and often has to).

Therefore, I should really learn not to read one of Ms. Mulhern's books when I go to bed, because it means that I won't get any sleep.  Her books are that good.  Really. She's one of those authors that you know you're going to like the book even before you've passed the first page.  Unfortunately, the side effect is I'm groggy in the morning from lack of sleep and it takes more coffee than Ellison drinks on a bad day to get me moving again.

When the ending comes and the killer is revealed, it comes as a bit of a surprise.  The clues are there, if you look for them but they're not overt.  They don't hit you over the head and you get the 'aha' moment almost the same time as Ellison.  It's a revelation, and a bit sad at the same time.  One realizes how easy it is for someone to lose a tenuous grip on reality without anyone even noticing. 

All in all, this is one of my favorite books in the series, and I've been enchanted with them all.  Ms. Mulhern is a wonderful writer who manages to not only put words on a page, but people as well.  I look forward to the next in the series.  Highly recommended.


More on Julie Mulhern's Books:

Jealousy Filled Donuts (A Deputy Donut Mystery #3)

Author:  Ginger Bolton Genre:   Mystery Trade Paperback; Digital Book ISBN #:  9781496711915 Kensington Publishing 276 Pages $10.29; $9.78 A...