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Saturday, June 1, 2019

Review - Lost Books and Old Bones

From the author of multiple mystery series, Country Cooking School, Farmer's Market, Dangerous Type series comes the third in a new series comes The Scottish Bookshop Mystery Series.  I reviewed the debut book in the series, The Cracked Spine (click here) and the second book, Of Books and Bagpipes (click here).  Here is a rundown of the third book in the series.


Author: Paige Shelton

Copyright: April 2018 (Minataur) 320 pgs

Series: 3rd in Scottish Bookshop Mystery series

Sensuality: Mild

Mystery Sub-genre: Cozy

Main Characters: Delaney Nichols, Expat and new employee at The Cracked Spine specializing in hard-to-find books and artifacts

Setting: Modern day, Edinburgh Scottland

Obtained Through: Library

From the book cover:"Delaney Nichols, originally of Kansas but settling happily into her new life as a bookseller in Edinburgh, works at the Cracked Spine in the heart of town. The shop is a place filled with curiosities and surprises tucked into every shelf, and it’s Delaney’s job to research the rare tomes and obscure artifacts that people come to buy and sell. When her new friends, also students at the medical school, come to the shop to sell a collection of antique medical books, Delaney knows she’s stumbled across a rare and important find indeed. Her boss, Edwin MacAlister, agrees to buy the multi-volume set, perhaps even to keep for his own collection.

But not long after the sale, one of Delaney’s new friends is found murdered in the alley behind the Cracked Spine, and she wonders if there is some nefarious connection between the origin of these books and the people whose hands they fell into. Delaney takes it upon herself to help bring the murderer to justice. During her investigation, Delaney she finds some old scalpels in the bookshop’s warehouse— and discovers that they belonged to a long-dead doctor whose story and ties to the past crimes of Burke and Hare might be connected to the present-day murder. It’s all Delaney can do to race to solve this crime before time runs out and she ends up a victim on the slab herself."

Delaney Nichols, an American in Scotland is on the case when an acquaintance is murdered in the alley behind the bookstore.  Delaney's boss, Edwin MacAlister, remains just as secretive as before, and fellow bookstore employees Rosie and 19-year old Hamlet give the story warmth.  Tom is the bartender from across the street and the romantic interest who has to deal with an old girlfriend now a reporter dragging Delaney's name through the papers.  Elias is a cab-driver who is also Delaney's landlord who makes a good side kick. 

The local medical school in Edinburgh is used often as a setting and it works well for atmosphere.  There is no clear motive or any one suspect that stands out, so the investigation leads the reader along clue by clue and kept my interest.  A tense and suspenseful killer reveal topped it off and the wrap up was touching.

I consider this the best of series so far with a cleaver plot and interesting characters.  

Rating: Excellent - Loved it, it had a good grip on me! Buy it now and put this author on your watch list.



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Monday, May 27, 2019

Review - City of Secrets

This is the second novel in a new series by the bestselling author of the Gaslight mystery series with midwife Sarah Brandt and Detective Frank Malloy.  The first in the series, City of Lies, I reviewed (click here).  I finally got to reading this second in the series and I wasn't disappointed.

Author: Victoria Thompson

Copyright: Nov 2018 (Berkley) 320 pgs

Series: 2nd in Counterfeit Lady Mystery series

Sensuality: Mild with adult topics

Mystery Sub-genre: Historical cozy, historical amateur sleuth

Main Characters: Elizabeth Miles, smart and cunning con-artist using her skills to help people

Setting: 1917, Washington DC

Obtained Through: Library

From the cover: "Elizabeth Miles knows that honesty is not always the best policy when it comes to finding justice.

Elizabeth has discovered that navigating the rules of high society is the biggest con of all. She knows she can play the game, but so far, her only success is Priscilla Knight, a dedicated young suffragist recently widowed for the second time. Her beloved first husband died in a tragic accident and left her with two young daughters—and a sizable fortune. While she was lost in grief, Priscilla’s pastor convinced her she needed a man to look after her and engineered a whirlwind courtship and hasty marriage to fellow parishioner Endicott Knight. Now, about nine months later, Endicott is dead in what appears to be another terrible accident. 

Everyone is whispering, but that is the least of Priscilla’s troubles. She had believed Endicott was wealthy, too, but her banker tells her she has no money left and her house has been mortgaged. He also hints at a terrible scandal and refuses to help. 

Priscilla stands to lose everything, and Elizabeth is determined not to let that happen. But, as always, Elizabeth walks a fine line between using her unusual talents and revealing her own scandalous past. Elizabeth soon discovers that Endicott’s death was anything but accidental, and revealing the truth could threaten much more than Priscilla’s finances. To save her new friend’s future—and possibly her own—Elizabeth, along with her honest-to-a-fault beau, Gideon, delve into the sinister secrets someone would kill to keep."

Elizabeth Miles grew up in a family of con men and was taught how to grift and con so she would be able to take care of herself. Although she is reformed, she knows justice sometimes has to be dished out in unconventional ways.  Anna Vanderslice is a sweet and gentle lady who met Elizabeth when she was imprisoned with the suffragists demonstrating and looks up to her.  Mrs Bates is an older lady who takes Elizabeth under her wing and knows she isn't a legitimate society lady.  Gideon Bates, Mrs. Bates son and a lawyer, is Elizabeth's fiance.  His uptight lawyer side thought he could handle how Elizabeth grew-up and her shady past.  But, this outing forces him to face if his following the letter of the law and her bending of the law are compatible. These characters shine and draw you in.

Victoria Thompson always does an incredible job of bringing the early 1900s New York to vivid life.  She excels in this series at highlighting the social environment.  Such as referring to The Etiquette of Today by Mrs. Ordway that Elizabeth is studying to navigate the multitude of society rules.  Plus the lengths that are taken to keep any of the harsh realities of life from touching society women.

The initial plot quickly deepens and a ruthless, manipulative, and cold blooded killer is closer than Elizabeth could have imagined.  The story moves along at a quick pace I found it near impossible to put down.

There isn't a traditional killer reveal or killer confrontation.  Rather, once Elizabeth has figured out who is behind everything it becomes clear that it will be nearly impossible to turn person(s) responsible over without destroying the widow and her children in the process.  What results is a creative "Leverage" style climatic show down. The wrap up was heart warming and I loved it.

I appreciated the Leverage style climax.  Leverage was a TV Show where a band of cohorts act as modern-day Robin Hoods, pulling off elaborate scams  against the greedy and the corrupt.  It fits beautifully with Elizabeth and her particular talents.  Gideon and his personal growth were spot on for his character and I am very pleased with the chemistry between him and Elizabeth.  I can't think of a single improvement possible.

Rating:  Near Perfect - Couldn't Put it down and can't wait for the next. Buy two copies, one for you and one for a friend.



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Saturday, May 25, 2019

Review - The Hollow of Fear

I have been a fan of this new series that re-imagines the Sherlock mythos since the debut, A Study in Scarlet Women (click here) followed by the second book, A Conspiracy in Belgravia (click here).  Charlotte is presented with the highest stakes yet that challenge her considerable intellect as the murder strikes too close to her personal world.  

Author: Sherry Thomas

Copyright: October 2018 (Berkley) 336 pgs

Series: 3rd in Lady Sherlock Mystery series

Sensuality: Mild with innuendo and adult topics

Mystery Sub-genre: Historical Cozy, Historical suspense

Main Characters: Charlotte Holmes, disgraced upper class woman who creates the Sherlock Holmes identity

Setting: 1886 Stern Hollow England, Lord Ingram's Estate

Obtained Through: Library Find

From the book cover: "Under the cover of "Sherlock Holmes, consulting detective," Charlotte Holmes puts her extraordinary powers of deduction to good use. Aided by the capable Mrs. Watson, Charlotte draws those in need to her and makes it her business to know what other people don't. 

Moriarty's shadow looms large. First, Charlotte's half brother disappears. Then, Lady Ingram, the estranged wife of Charlotte's close friend Lord Ingram, turns up dead on his estate. And all signs point to Lord Ingram as the murderer.

With Scotland Yard closing in, Charlotte goes under disguise to seek out the truth. But uncovering the truth could mean getting too close to Lord Ingram--and a number of malevolent forces..."

Charlotte Holmes is blond, pretty, very feminine, too fond of sweets, and far too intelligent for the time period. She considers how much dessert to eat based on how many chins she has at the moment.  Her sublimated feelings for Lord Ingram are tested as she must come to his rescue and keep him from a death sentence for a murder he didn't commit.  Her disguise is both brilliant and hilarious at times.

Lord Ingram Ashburton, a long time friend who accepts Charlotte for who she is, has been set up but good for murder.  His feelings for her plus any personal issues around his strained marriage may unintentionally get aired as she is undercover in his household.  Mrs. John Watson, a retired stage actress who has become her unique and talented sidekick aids as usual.  Inspector Robert Treadles even comes out from London with his superior to investigate and his loyalties and prejudices alike are tested. Mrs Watson's niece, Miss Redmayne, joins the team for a cameo performance.  Charlotte's sister, Olivia, is even in the thick of story as she ends up at a neighboring estate that has a problem causing all the guests to relocate to Ingram's estate.  Olivia's character is developed more than before and the reader becomes more invested in her and the rarely heard of third sister Bernadine.

Stern Hollow England, Lord Ingram's Estate, is a beautiful setting now tainted by murder.  The setting hints that all is not as the surface appearance makes you believe. Excellent use of the setting.

The plot has many twists and deceptions upon deceptions. Because of this and the character development, it is near impossible to put down.  I am a slow reader and read it in about 36 hours.  Once you get to the killer reveal, you are left with your mouth open and stunned.  Yes, stunned.  Excellent final twist.  The wrap up leaves you aching for the next installment.  

The attraction between Lord Ingram and Charlotte gets new complications in this novel. The writing style is superb and contains a sophisticated handling of the plot to prevent revealing too much too soon. I highly recommend this novel.

Rating: Near Perfect - Couldn't Put it down. Buy two copies, one for you and one for a friend.


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Monday, May 20, 2019

Guest Author Post - Jenn McKinlay & Review: Dying for Devil’s Food

Please welcome Jenn McKinlay, the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of the Happily Ever After romances, the Bluff Point romances, the Library Lover's mysteries, the Cupcake Bakery mysteries, and the Hat Shop mysteries.

Developing a Character Who is a Bully



Bullies. No one likes a bully. When I started writing Dying for Devil’s Food and I knew Melanie Cooper was going to be confronted with the opportunity to face down her old nemeses, I had to think for the first time about why her school tormentors were they way they were. What made them so vicious and mean? This is Character Development 101 – figure out your character’s motivations because no one is a jerk for no reason. At least, I hope not.

Cassidy Havers and Dwight Pickard were the two students most responsible for Mel’s misery in high school. Cassidy nicknamed her “Melephant” and did everything she could to torture Mel about her weight, her looks, and her shyness. But why? Why would someone go out of their way to make another person so miserable?

I didn’t have much of a frame of reference for this because I was pretty lucky in school in that I can’t remember being bullied. Oh, sure, at six feet tall, I was teased just like the kid with the sticky out ears, the girl with the super thick glasses, and the boy who was so skinny he looked like he was made of string. But while I was teased for my height I never felt bullied, not like Mel did, so what made Cassidy so mean to her?

“Hurt people hurt people.” I read this sentence in a discussion about bullying awhile ago and it’s always stuck with me. It’s true, a person who is hurting will strike out and hurt other people. Knowing this, I thought long and hard about why Cassidy had wanted to hurt Mel so much back in high school. To my surprise, this added all new twists and turns to the plot that I hadn’t expected but was delighted to explore. I’d say more, but I don’t want to give away too much.

The other element of the story that surprised me was a surprise reconciliation with one of her former bullies. When one of her former tormentors grudgingly helps Mel track down the killer, it was an opportunity for the characters to discover each other beyond the persona of bully and victim. But after so much pain, could two people actually find friendship? Again, I can’t say too much but how does a person forgive someone for making them miserable during the most vulnerable years of their life? You’ll have to read the book to find out!

Here’s a longer description of Dying for Devil’s Food to whet your appetite: Melanie Cooper has zero interest in catering her fifteen-year high school reunion, but Angie insists it's only right that they bask in the success of Fairy Tale Cupcakes--and Mel's engagement to the delicious Joe DeLaura is the cherry on top! Everything is going better than expected until Cassidy Havers, resident mean girl and Mel's high school nemesis, picks a fight. No longer willing to put up with Cassidy's bullying, Mel is ready to tell the former homecoming queen to shut her piehole and call it a night. But as Mel and Joe prepare to depart, Cassidy is found dead in the girl's bathroom, next to a note written in lipstick that points right to Mel--making her the prime suspect. Now, Mel must follow the clues to find the real killer and keep her reputation from being frosted for a crime she didn't commit.

My Review




Author: Jenn McKinlay

Copyright: May 2019 (Berkley) 297 pgs

Series: 11th in Cupcake Bakery Mystery series

Sensuality: Mild

Mystery Sub-genre: Cozy

Main Characters: Melanie Cooper, owner of the Fairy Tale Cupcakes bakery

Setting: Modern day, Scottsdale, Arizona

Obtained Through: Publisher for honest review, NetGalley

Melanie Cooper faces the high school bullies of her nightmares, making her character stronger and a beacon for victims everywhere.  Angie, best friend and co-owner is a cheerleader type. Joe DeLaura, fiance and brother of Angie who is also the DA.  He escorts Mel to the reunion and makes a point of letting everyone know how lucky he is to be marrying her.  I loved him for that!  Tate Harper, Mel's other best friend and business partner who is married to Angie now stands by Mel as a fierce friend.  Uncle Stan is a police detective and provides the police connection to get information rather than the usual cop boyfriend.  I liked Stan and how it worked.  Marty Zelaznik, the spunky octogenarian counter-help, and Oz, the young tattooed pastry student that is her kitchen backup are gems for additional characters.

The plot was a basic cozy who-dunnit with a cast of suspects around the cupcake business theme.  The pacing had a little bit of a rough start for me with the drama filled reunion, but it picked up quickly. The investigation moved along smoothly and before I knew it we were at the end, so the pacing sped along.

The killer reveal wasn't necessarily a surprise, since many characters had solid motives to kill the mean girl.  But, I will say the killer wasn't obvious. The reveal was suspenseful and seemed natural-to a point. The wrap-up provided some character depth to the mean-girl victim and to another bully.  

I had not read any of the previous books in the series and had no problem picking up the book and enjoying it.  Dying for Devil's Food is a light read and addresses the bullying topic from Mel's tortured memories which keeps it both at arm's length while putting a face to it.  It shows how vicious just words can be and how it devastates the spirit while keeping the story overall still breezy. I liked the boyfriend being a DA rather than a cop, nice twist on that cliche.  


Rating: Good - A fun lite read.




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Thursday, May 16, 2019

Review - Death Distilled

I reviewed the first in this series, Single Malt Murder (click here).  I was in the mood to read the next and finally got around to it in my TBR pile.  If you want an escape to Scotland at a whisky distillery, read on and see my thoughts.  

Author: Melinda Mullet

Copyright: Sept 2017 (Alibi-Random House) 240 pgs

Series: 2nd in Whisky Business Mystery series

Sensuality: Mild, some sprinkled language

Mystery Sub-genre: Cozy

Main Characters: Abigail Logan, photojournalist who inherited Abbey Glen distillery

Setting: Modern day, Scottland

Obtained Through: Personal purchase

Cover blurb: "It’s been three months since Abi Logan last checked in on Abbey Glen, the celebrated whisky distillery she inherited. With her oversize wheaten terrier, Liam, by her side, Abi returns to the quaint Scottish village of Balfour. But her relaxing Highland homecoming takes a stressful turn when she unearths an unseemly bit of village history, welcomes a group of Japanese whisky enthusiasts, and becomes shepherdess to an unexpected flock of sheep—all within the first twenty-four hours. Still, nothing’s more stressful than murder. . . .

Local celebrity Rory Hendricks is the hotheaded, hard-rocking former frontman of the Rebels—and Abi’s girlhood crush. After meeting him in person, Abi can’t say no to anything he asks, like photographing his upcoming show . . . or figuring out who’s trying to kill him. Turns out someone’s been bumping off his old bandmates, with the drummer dead under mysterious circumstances and the keyboardist in a coma following a hit-and-run. Now a series of threatening messages leads Rory to think he’s next on the chopping block. And the band has a devil’s share of broken hearts and bitter disputes in their past, leaving Abi a huge batch of suspects to sift through—all before the killer takes another shot."

Abigail is a stubborn and gutsy character who is struggling with her photojournalist career versus the inherited distillary and her avoidance of dating versus her growing attraction to Grant MacEwan.  Abbey Glen manager Grant MacEwan is very reserved and a great romantic interest for Abi, although it won't be a smooth ride between these two.  Best friend Patrick Cooke  is one of those friends who always has a new job or project and gets everyone in his sphere involved.  Rory Hendricks, lead singer from rock group Rebels, claims his bad boy hard partying rocker reputation was primarily just publicity, but maybe not. Rory's adult daughter Summer has tremendous father issues and decides to seduce Grant.  Then there is the wheaten terrier Liam, a loyal and sweet friend for Abigail, probably the best relationship she has.

I love the Scottish setting of Balfour, the small nearest town, Grant MacEwan's castle-like home, and Rory's isolated house he is renting.  These each provide such a sense of place that I felt I had taken a little vacation to Scotland.  

The main plot of danger to Rory and/or his daughter Summer develops suspense and the subplots of Japanese whisky businessmen visiting the distillery, Abigail and Grant's wary attraction to each other, and Abi's adoption of a herd of sheep to save their lives, plus renovations to the pub in town uncovering local history and old mysteries kept me completely enthralled.  

The killer confrontation was blood pumping and unique.  I loved it, great job.  The wrap-up was also well done.  some threads tied up and others still in progress for the next book.  I can't wait to read the third in the series.

The story got me into a Scotland mood with its great sense of place.  I appreciate the complexities to Abigail and her life and how it isn't over the top or too drama filled.  The building towards a romance is spot on and deftly handled.  At first I wasn't enthusiastic to read it from cover blurb, but I was very quickly wrapped up in the story and couldn't put it down.  This was a great second book for the series and I am already eyeing the third.  

Rating: Excellent - Loved it, it had a good grip on me! Buy it now and put this author on your watch list.


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