Much Ado About Murder

REVIEW: Much Ado About Murder by Elizabeth J. Duncan

Summary


Charlotte Fairfax is the costume designer for the Catskills Shakespeare Theater Company. As the company prepares to stage Much Ado About Nothing, many things at the resort/theater are shaking things up.

Their star, Audrey Ashley, has arrived from England with her sister/manager in tow. The director, who left town for personal reasons, decides suddenly not to return. The theater board tries to hire Wade Radcliffe, a local director, to replace him. But Miss Ashley, as the star, has veto power. She instead calls in Edmund Albright. In a surprise for everyone, including Audrey, Albright decides to modify the play to take place in the era of the Civil War. Budgets, sets, costumes, and his star’s disapproval, will not dissuade him.

As if the staffing changes and debates over the timing and setting for the play hadn’t slowed things down already, the death of a key player threatens to derail the whole thing permanently. Charlotte is determined to find the truth and save the play.

Review


This is the third book in the Shakespeare in the Catskills mystery series, and my first introduction to these characters.

This series is written in third person which was a shift for me from many of the cozies I read. You wouldn’t think it would make much of a difference but for some reason it did. The transitions from Charlotte’s scenes to others when she wasn’t there were jarring. I didn’t feel connected to her as a main character. There was a distance for the entire story that didn’t click for me. There were times early on when I was still finding the rhythm of the story where it felt like I was reading non-fiction because of the distance and formality in some of the writing. I prefer my cozies to be much warmer, and, well, cozier.

The mystery is solid from the start. There’s lots of time to get used to the different characters and their personalities and build tension over the play before the murder takes place. I was completely off base about the murderer, but the clues were there all along. Once I got into the story I was happy to read until the conclusion.

I missed the warmth and connection I feel with my favorite mysteries. I might read more of this series, if there was a story line that intrigued me. But the writing would take some getting used to for me. Other readers will not be bothered by the writing and will love this solid mystery.

Thanks to Netgalley and Crooked Lane Books for the electronic review copy offered in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: ♥♥♥

Spoonful of Magic

REVIEW: A Spoonful of Magic by Irene Radford

Summary


Daphne “Daffy” Deschants celebrates her 13th wedding anniversary by calling out her husband, “G”(Gabriel), for sleeping around. She has pictures to prove it! And they came from G’s own work email. She’s starting to notice a new side of G. He only seems to care about their kids – and Daffy being around to care for them while his work takes him all around the world. And she thinks he’s used magic on her, too.

Daffy and her family live in Eugene, Oregon, home of a fairy festival and plenty of shops selling mystical and magical items. But Daffy hadn’t realized the extent of real magic in town, in her own house… and maybe even in herself.

Evil magic exists and G, as Sheriff of the Guild of Master Wizards, is hunting for one of the worst. But the evil seems to be circling ever closer to G’s family. How can he protect them when Daffy’s kicked him out of the house and doesn’t trust him?

Review


I have mixed feelings about this one. I generally love fantasy and magic stories like this one. And there were parts of this I really enjoyed. I liked Daffy and her kids. The pieces about the kids growing into their place in this magical world were great. At the same time, I did not like G at all. He was far too cavalier about his marriage and family to be likable in my opinion.

I also wanted a lot more world building. I felt like things were abruptly revealed, but also incompletely. Maybe that was because Daffy is the point of view character, and she is only just learning about this world herself. Point of view was interesting in this, too, as Daffy told her part of the story in first person while the other parts of the story that took place outside of her involvement were told in third person.

As urban fantasy goes, this was good (except for some of the world building as I mentioned). Personally, some of the magic pieces were dark for me, and I didn’t enjoy them. I also didn’t care for G’s ethics when it came to his marriage. Other readers might not be bothered by these things and may enjoy this story more than I did.

Thanks to Netgalley and DAW for an electronic review copy of this book offered in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: ♥♥♥

A Fatal Collection

REVIEW: A Fatal Collection by Mary Ellen Hughes

Summary


Callie Reed arrives at her Aunt Mel’s music box store in “Keepsake Cove” for a long overdue reunion. But before they have time to do much catching up, Mel is dead and Callie has inherited her aunt’s store and cottage.

Callie’s not convinced Mel’s death was an accident. While she tries to get settled into her new home and learn about her new business, she also tries to get to know the folks in town. Maybe she can figure out who might have wanted to hurt her aunt.

There are several odd things going on around town. The town treasurer seems to go on more expensive vacations and buy expensive “toys” than his business should be able to support. The guy doing odd jobs around town seems menacing. And Callie’s business “neighbor” is openly hostile and only seems interested in buying out the music box shop and being horrible. Callie has her hands full trying to determine what really happened to Aunt Mel.

Review


This is the first book in the new Keepsake Cove mystery series. The setting is fantastic. The little collectible stores are quaint and quirky. It makes for lots of interesting characters for the town and reasons for lots of people to come through as visitors for future stories.

I loved the main characters. Callie is great and the friends she made in this first book created a solid supporting cast. Her quirky part timer with “psychic” gifts and Tarot readings made for some interesting impacts on the plot. The characters were introduced at a comfortable pace so the reader could keep track of everyone. This is a town and a group of people I’d love to spend more time with.

The mystery was solid. I was able to figure out the solution before the end. I enjoyed working through the clues and possible suspects. While I enjoy mysteries with a little magic or fantasy thrown in, I am not a fan of Tarot and other things that could be considered “occultish.” So that might keep me from reading more in the series in the future. I would have enjoyed the book just as much without that piece in the story.

Thanks to the folks at Netgalley and Midnight Ink for an electronic review copy of this book offered in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: ♥♥♥♥

Canal Days Calamity nov8

REVIEW: Canal Days Calamity by Jamie M. Blair

Summary


As Cameron – Cam – amps up the preparation for Canal Days in Metamora, Indiana, she stumbles across the body of a local. She doesn’t even recognize the man at first. She certainly is NOT getting involved in another murder.

When the police arrest her friend and handyman, Andy, for the murder, Cam has to get involved. And her team, the Metamora Action Agency – two high school seniors and two senior citizens – are ready to start questioning suspects, too.

Cam has a lot more on her plate than a murder! There’s her house full of rowdy dogs, her sister’s business launch, her mom’s visit, new fellas in her mom’s life and her sister’s, her power struggle with her mother-in-law, and parenting her teenage stepdaughter while dating her estranged husband. Not to mention the Canal Days event for the whole town. Cam will need to watch her step as she negotiates it all while hunting for a murderer – or she could be the next victim.

Review


This is book two in the Dog Days Mystery series, but the first  book I’ve read. Because of this, I felt overwhelmed at the start of the book. There are a LOT of characters and businesses in this setting. I needed a list to keep track of everything. I wonder if I had read book one first if I would have had an easier time.

Once I had a handle on the characters, I fell in love with them. The relationships are quirky and complicated, in the best ways. I cared about what happened to these folks, which makes me want to go back and read book one and continue following the series. I’ve read several “good” mysteries lately, but my connection with these characters made this story “great.”

The mystery was good. I was surprised that the body was founds SO early. We hadn’t even met the character before he died. It made me feel invested in the case right from the first chapter.

I’m eager to read book one, Deadly Dog Days, and to tell other mystery fans to check out this series! Thanks to Netgalley and the folks at Midnight Ink for providing an electronic review copy in exchange for an honest review. This book releases next Tuesday, November 8th.

Rating: ♥♥♥♥½

Running out of Time

REVIEW: Running Out of Time by Suzanne Trauth

Summary


Dodie O’Dell lives in New Jersey and is the manager of the Windjammer, a restaurant/bar right next to the Etonville Little Theatre. Since Dodie’s best friend, Lola, is the artistic director for the theater, the Windjammer helps provide themed food for their productions.

This time, the ELT is putting on a modified version of Our Town. One of the extras, Sally Oldfield, is a young woman Dodie has taken under her wing. New to town, Sally is getting to know folks in Etonville through the ELT.

When Dodie stumbles into Sally at the theater on opening day, and notices she’s covered in blood, she hardly knows what to think. As Sally runs off, Dodie notices the body.

No one seems to know the dead man or why he was in town. But Sally’s disappeared. And she seemed startled to see that same man a few days earlier. Dodie’s going to need all her sleuthing skills to find Sally and figure out if she is a murderer.

Review


This is the first Dodie O’Dell mystery I’ve read, even though this is the third book in the series. I enjoyed the story and the characters.

Dodie is a pretty typical cozy protagonist. She’s dating the local Chief of Police. He respects her instincts but hates her interference, especially when it puts her in danger. Her role in the community, between her job, her friends and the theater, gives her a lot of access to information for sleuthing. The characters from town are pretty quirky, which gave the book a fun angle.

The mystery was good. I was able to puzzle out the main mystery, but there were still a couple twists I didn’t guess which made for a fun read. The story takes place around Valentine’ Day so the setting is nice and snowy for readers ready for wintery books.

I enjoyed this book and would like to pick up the first two books in the series. This story alludes to those “cases,” and they sound great.

Thanks to Kensington/Lyrical Underground and Netgalley for an electronic review copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: ♥♥♥♥

Perilous Poetry

REVIEW: Perilous Poetry by Kym Roberts

Summary


Charli Rae and her dad own the Book Barn Princess in Texas. Charli has recently returned to her home town, reconciled with her dad, and joined him in the family business. And she’s thrilled to receive the latest Midnight Poet Society release from her favorite mystery author, Lucy Barton to sell at the Barn. But Charli is about to get a whole lot more connected to Lucy Barton.

Charli’s cousin, Jamal, has developed an app called Book Seekers. It’s a game that leads players to collect books. And it’s branded to the Book Barn Princess. It’s a brilliant way to get people talking about books and to get them into the store. Jamal has even worked out a tie-in author signing with none other than Lucy Barton! People love the concept and run off to play the game and collect books and prizes.

When the first body is discovered, set up to look like the cover of a Midnight Poet Society book, everything changes. Someone runs Jamal off the road and shoots out the front of the Book Barn Princess. The town council and the mayor think the app is dangerous and needs to be shut down. Could Book Seekers be connected to a murder and these other acts of violence?

Review


While this is my first time reading a Book Barn mystery, this is the third book in the series. The cover art has always caught my eye with the gorgeous, bright pink barn and the pet armadillo on every cover.

I enjoyed the mystery and the characters in this book. I’d like to read the first two books and get some of the back story filled in, but I feel like I was able to keep up with everything. There are a lot of characters to track in this one, so I’d like more of the details to help keep everyone straight. Like other cozies, there’s something of a love triangle going on. In my experience those can get tiring for readers. I hope Charli makes her choice soon! It seems like an obvious one to me.

The mystery is solid. In fact, I had NO guess on a culprit as I read. The victims were not typical for cozies. Usually it is a universally despised person. This felt more random until all the details were revealed. I’m eager to see if Book Seekers continues to be a factor in future books in this series.

Thanks to the folks at Kennsington/Lyrical Underground and Netgalley for the opportunity to read an early electronic copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: ♥♥♥♥

Temptation of Dragons

REVIEW: The Temptation of Dragons by Chrys Cymri

Summary


On the way home one night, a priest passes by the scene of a car accident. No one is hurt, so she continues on. Shortly thereafter, she comes across a body. A dragon, clinging to life. “Father Penny” administers last rites, heads home, and resolves to reconsider her drinking habits. She’s obviously hallucinating.

Except she’s not. Penny is a rare human who has encountered a creature from Lloegyr, the equivalent of England in a parallel world where dragons, vampires, elves and such exist. With her love of Dr. Who and enough familiarity with Buffy the Vampire Slayer to fill her 55,000 word Master’s thesis, Penny is the perfect choice to be Vicar of General Incursions. Serving as Vicar means Penny would work with the church leadership of both worlds on instances where creatures from either side ended up in the other and problems ensued.

One of the first problems Father Penny has to address is her dead dragon, who appears to have died from poison rather than the car accident.

Review


I agreed to review this at the request of the author who provided an electronic review copy in exchange for an honest review. I rarely agree to such requests, but I enjoy fantasy stories and dragons and such, so I said I would give it a try. The book was a pleasant surprise!

This was so fun to read. The pop culture references were enjoyable and the characters were fascinating. I loved Father Penny. While my faith didn’t line up all the time with the book, I found the faith pieces genuine and moving. Penny is honest and earnest about the challenges and blessings in her calling. The other major characters are terrific – the humans, dragons, gryphons, and “snail sharks” (Clyde, the baby snail shark, is adorable in so many ways – and terrifying in others).

The story was delightfully layered. There was the human layer of Penny and her brother and their grief over Penny’s husband. Then there was the layer of world building for the fantasy characters/lands. Romance – or potential romance – creates another layer. And finally, there is the poison/murder plot layer. Each part was nuanced and enjoyable. I’m so glad I had the chance to read this! I’m looking forward to checking out the other two books in the series.

Rating: ♥♥♥♥

Fixing to Die

REVIEW: Fixing to Die by Miranda James

Summary


Miss An’gel Ducote, her sister Dickce and their ward, Benjy, travel to Cliffwood, an historic home in Natchez, Mississippi. The Caitlins, Mary Turner and Henry Howard, have invited them into their home, which serves as a bed and breakfast for most of the year. The Ducote sisters were dear friends to Mary Turner’s grandmother. The Caitlins seem to be having issues with a ghost. Mary Turner hopes An’gel and Dickce can figure out what’s going on while the B&B is closed to guests for a little while.

Cliffwood isn’t as empty as the Caitlins expected it to be when the Ducotes arrive. Mrs. Primrose Pace is a psychic who claims she was summoned to the house to help them deal with spirits. Then Mary Turner’s distant cousin, Serenity, her lawyer, Truscott, and Serenity’s brother, Nathan, also arrive. Nathan is convinced that his branch of the family was cheated out of part of their inheritance. He’s determined to either find another will or pester Mary Turner until he gets what he wants.

While the ghost – or prankster – makes several appearances to the guests of the house, something even more sinister is going on when one of the guests ends up dead.

Review


I’m not much for ghost stories, so it took me a little while to find my rhythm with this book. Once all the players were in place, though, I was completely engrossed in trying to figure out whodunit.

I enjoy the Ducote sisters and their entourage, including their pets. It was nice to see them in a new setting with new characters and crimes. (This is the fourth book in the series.) The references to the Nancy Drew mysteries the sisters read as girls were fun. I read them as a kid along with the Bobbsey Twins and Trixie Belden mysteries. They set the foundation to my life-long love of mysteries with spunky protagonists. And the Ducote sisters, while in their 70s, certainly qualify as spunky!

Solid mystery in this one. I guessed wrong – and I was certain I was right. I enjoyed the surprise in the solution that I didn’t see coming. The ones that keep me wondering all the way to the end are almost as fun to read as the ones I am able to puzzle out.

I think readers can enjoy this mystery out of order, but to understand the sisters and their ward and how that all came together, it’s better to read the series in order. It’s going to be awhile until we see a 5th book in this series as the author has announced a shift to publishing two books per year in another series. This will give readers plenty of time to get caught up on this fun southern series if you haven’t been reading it all this time.

Many thanks to Netgalley and Berkley for an electronic review copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: ♥♥♥♥

Sisters of Sugarcreek

REVIEW: The Sisters of Sugarcreek by Cathy Liggett

Summary


Lydia lost her husband, a volunteer firefighter, in the fire at Faith Community Church. But even more, she lost her anchor to everything. Henry was a private man. He did everything around the house himself except cook and garden, which Lydia did. They didn’t have neighbors over often, and they never lingered after church. They lived a quiet life, and Lydia was often alone. Without Henry, she’s adrift and feeling out of her depth.

Jessica lost her Aunt Rose in the fire. Rose had raised her as a child when she lost her parents. She welcomed her back as a young pregnant woman when her marriage fell apart. Now Jessica owns Rose’s craft store, Rose’s Knit One Quilt Two Cottage. But Jessica doesn’t knit or quilt. She’s not prepared to run a store like this. She’s definitely in over her head.

Liz is grieving Rose’s death, too. Her best friend and partner in “crime.” Rose and Liz had started a secret encouragement ministry, leaving food and handcrafted items for folks in need of a little hope. She talks Jessica into helping her keep it going. And Lydia is going to be their first recipient.

Review


This was delightful. Each of the three main characters was strong and interesting in her own right. There wasn’t a part of the trio that sagged. The pieces of their stories wove into each other’s well. The romantic pairings were obvious from the outset, but I enjoyed the story so much I didn’t care if that was predictable.

I have not had a lot of luck with finding Christian fiction I love. I have a few “go to” books that I read over and over, but otherwise I find the stories or characters can be flat or the message feels heavy-handed. This was NOT the case here. The faith pieces made sense where they entered the story. It felt natural. I didn’t feel like the author was trying to make a point. She just told a great story about people of faith.

This was excellent. I will be adding it to my small collection of Christian Fiction mainstays and telling others about this great story!

Rating: ♥♥♥♥♥

Christmas Peril spt8

REVIEW: A Christmas Peril by J. A. Hennrikus

Summary


Edwina “Sully” Sullivan took an early retirement as a police office and is now the general manager of her home town theater.  Days before their annual performance of A Christmas Carol, Sully’s cousin and friend becomes the lead suspect in his father’s murder. Sully knows she should keep her focus on the play. Her headlining star can’t remember his lines and her Jacob Marley has just quit. But the police instincts and investigative skills are still strong. And the Whitehall family has asked for her help.

This is an incredibly complicated case. Only a small group of people could have committed the murder – and most of those people are members of the family. Even if Sully is technically family herself, she is enough of an outsider that it’s hard to get all the facts on the case. Discovering her ex is the family’s lawyer only complicates things further. But Sully is determined to get to the bottom of this case one way or another.

Review


This is the first book in the “Theater Cop” mystery series. I thoroughly enjoyed this set up – a former cop running a theater program. The theater gives the reader interesting characters and some fun distractions from the main mystery. I also enjoyed the murder set up. I’ve read the “wealthy family, dead patriarch” sort of set up several times, and I find those sorts of stories fascinating. There are so many interesting things the author can do with the family members in a story like that.

There were a LOT of characters in this one. Thankfully, the personalities were strong and clear, so it was easy to keep track of everyone. Sully is a great character. She’s smart and likable. And she works hard to keep some semblance of boundaries with the police on the case and the family.

The mystery was really engaging. I could not puzzle everything out before the end, and I didn’t want to put it down until I finished so I would know the whole story. I still had some questions at the end – things I didn’t think were spelled out as clearly as I would have liked. Otherwise I would have given this 5 stars. Sully is a character that will bring me back for book 2; she’s a character I would definitely spend more time with.

Thanks to the awesome folks at Midnight Ink and Netgalley for an electronic review copy in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: ♥♥♥♥