High school can be a traumatic time, but that’s usually for students. But when southern belle, Emma Lovett, after getting a divorce and going back to school to get her teaching degree, at her first job in a Colorado high school, she experiences trauma beyond her wildest imaginings. When she finds Melvin McMannus, the school’s night janitor, with his head bashed in, the seamy doings in the school’s underbelly start crawling into the light, and she finds herself at the epicenter of events that threaten to spiral out of control. With her new bestie, Leslie Parker, another English teacher at the school, she sets out to solve the murder, and in the process gets herself neck-deep in the putrid politics of a small-town school, and even perhaps a bit of romance on the side.
Kelley Kaye’s Death by Diploma is, in a word—well, three words actually—a rollicking read. Generous helpings of humor, a dollop of suspense, and as chaotic a cast of characters as mystery lovers could ever crave. As a cozy mystery fan, especially the excellently crafted British cozies, I have high standards, that many authors just don’t live up to. Kaye, on the other hand, not only met my expectations, she exceeded them.
I received a complimentary review copy of this outstanding book, and am happy to bestow upon it five stars.
Luther Plunkett is a slightly bent construction contractor who, along with his even more crooked brother, Evan, is trying to get the town council of Ponderosa Pines to merge with a neighboring town. Lined up against him are Emmaline (EV) Valentino, one of the town’s elders, and Chloe LaRue, the anonymous author of the town’s gossip column, When Luther dies after falling (being pushed) from a ladder in a church where he was working on a job, because he and EV had had a very public spat just hours before his untimely demise, she is the prime suspect. Homicide detective, Nate Harper, back in his home town recuperating from an on-the-job injury, is tasked with finding the killer. The problem is, though, he has a history with Chloe.
Residents of Ponderosa Pines begin to take sides on the issue, depending upon whether or not they like or dislike EV, and when Evan, who also had a very public spat with EV, is found dead in his home, the heat on EV is ratcheted up several degrees. She and Chloe then realize that if her reputation is to be salvaged, and her freedom assured, they must solve the crime.
Cat Killed a Rat by mother-daughter writing team Erin Lynn and ReGina Welling is a cozy mystery that has all you need to pass the time on a cold winter day sitting in front of a cozy fire. Clues and red herrings pile up as high as your chin, and the authors keep you guessing until the killer is found—and, you’ll be surprised when this happens, but it comes at you completely unexpected. Not that there aren’t clues, it’s just that they’ve done such a fantastic job of masking them.
I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my review. I loved it. I give it five stars.
The little community of Dulwich, where families strive to get their children into the best schools, and home of Wyatt Academy, is, as its name implies—dull. But, for Beth Haldane, a single mom who has just been hired as assistant archivist at Wyatt, it’s not only a way to supplement her freelance income, but home. Dull becomes deadly, though, when, on her first day at the new job, Beth stumbles across the body of her new boss, stabbed to death in an isolated area of the prestigious school. Now, out of innate curiosity, and to clear her own name—after all, police often suspect the person who found the body—she must discover the real killer. But, the more she pokes the hornet’s nest, the more dust she stirs up, until her own life is in danger.
Death in Dulwich by Alice Castle is British cozy mystery at its absolute best. An amateur detective who fumbles and stumbles, often interfering with the official investigation, in a search for the truth. It’s also one of the funniest cozies I’ve read so far this year, and one that you won’t regret having read.
I give it four stars.
When Madison Boone buys an old cottage in Sonoma that belonged to a reclusive ornithologist and his wife, her plans are just to fix it up and flip it for profit. The property has a secret, though, and some people are willing to go to extraordinary lengths to uncover it—unfortunately, they have to get Madison off the property first. With the help of her friend, lawyer, Gen Delacourt, Madison begins to peel away the layers of the mystery of the Blackburne family’s estate, and what she learns could be deadly.
Mark of the Loon by Molly Greene is a delightful cozy mystery with a wacky, but loveable cast of characters—a group of witty, independent women who operate according to their own rules, and a colorful locale that is lovingly described, without becoming boring. I loved the pacing; slow and measured until you feel comfortable, and then a burst of frenetic action to get your blood pounding, and just enough budding romance to make it all interesting.
A great start to what I predict will be an even greater series. Don’t miss it. I give it five stars.
The plant lady, Eden Tywyn, is still trying to escape her past. Recuperating from her adventures in finding out who was behind sabotage at the mall where she works in Packard Falls, she’s pulled into yet another adventure by her new BFF, Ronnie Landau. When strange things start happening, she’s unsure if it’s a blast from her past, or something even more sinister.
The Plant Lady Cracks a Nut is Gwen Pankhurst’s second book in the Plant Lady series, and it’s just as wacky as book one. Eden and her band of oddball friends (two- and four-legged) are forced to deal with efforts to bring development to the peaceful oasis of Packard Falls, while Eden continues to cope with the unwanted attention of her maybe not dead husband’s family.
Humorous and scary at the same time, this is great fireside reading. I received a free copy of this book, and I give this one four stars.
The Summer Sea Carnival is coming to the magical island of Bijou Mer, and Prince Harry has decided that it would be nice if the royal bakery had a booth at this year’s festivities. Imogen Banks, witch-in-training and master baker, jumps at the chance to help run the booth, in order to avoid Prince Harry—Hank to her—because of her strong feelings for her being all complicated by the fact that he’s engaged to be married . . . to someone else.
Things quickly get out of hand when the famed necromancer, Madame Zerna, is found sawed in half in the magician’s tent, and her arch-rival, Rhonda, is found standing over the body with a bloody saw in her hand. Rhonda appeals to Imogen for help, and having previously been wrongfully accused, Imogen understands her friend’s dilemma and decides to try and clear her name.
In Black Arts, Tarts & Gypsy Carts by Erin Johnson it’s always darkest before the dawn, and only slightly overcast afterwards. You’ll fall in love with Imogen and most of her friends, especially Iggy, the irreverent flame who helps her bake some of the most amazing dishes, and you’ll roundly boo the villains—as soon as you figure out just who they are. Johnson has a way of masking the bad guy (or gal) until the very last minute, so the reader is as surprised as Imogen when the mask comes off.
This is book 2 in what is quickly becoming my favorite mystery series. I received a free copy of this book.
I give it five stars.
Eden Tywyn is happy with her job, tending plants at Cambridge Mall in the little town of Packard Falls, but she’s getting the urge to move on, trying to keep one step ahead of her late husband’s family and her past. When the unpopular mall manager goes missing, believed dead in a plane crash, money comes up short in the mall’s accounts, and there is evidence of sabotage at the facility, the owner asks Eden to help her find answers. Not the most social of people, she’s unsure of how to proceed, but is motivated by the fact that the mall’s security manager is looking at her with suspicion.
The Plant Lady: Twigs to Villainy by Gwen Pankhurst is an amusing cozy mystery, with interesting characters and a relatively complex plot. While the current crime is tied up neatly at the end, just enough of Eden’s past is inserted to whet a reader’s appetite for sequels.
I give it five stars.
Imogen Banks has scrimped and saved to amass enough money to open her own bakery. Just when she’s reached her monetary goal, her dreams go up in flames. But, she has somehow managed to become a contestant in a mysterious baking contest at an island off the coast of France. With nothing to lose—literally, as everything burned up in when her apartment went up in flames—she buys a ticket to France.
Once at the mysterious island, she encounters something she’s never believed in before, magic. Her skills are put to the test as she contends with magical creatures, including a wise cracking cooking flame, and a contestant dropping dead in the middle of the competition, and her humble self being looked at as the prime suspect.
Time is running short for Imogen. She must find the real killer, dig deep to find the baking skills to prevail in a contest she has no hope of winning, and learn to deal with the fact that, despite her inability to cast even the simplest spell, she is herself a creature of magic.
Seashells, Spells & Caramels by Erin Johnson is a delightful cozy mystery, with liberal doses of murder, mayhem, and magic, that will entertain you on every page. This book will delight both mystery fans and those who like the supernatural. It is unnaturally entertaining.
I received a free copy of this author’s first novel, and give it five stars for its sheer entertainment value.
Paige MacKenzie, a reporter for The Manhattan Post, is assigned to do a feature story on the famous Yogo sapphires, found in Timberton, Montana. While doing the story, she hopes to reconnect with her (maybe) boyfriend, the cowboy, Jake Norris. In Timberton, Paige stumbles across a mystery involving a western artist that overshadows her research into the sapphire trade, and her curiosity almost gets her killed.
The Moonglow Café by Deborah Garner is a cozy mystery with a fascinating cast of characters, and a convoluted plot that the author neatly wraps up in the end. There is romance, but, thankfully, it’s kept well enough in the background and doesn’t interfere with the flow of a compelling mystery story with more twists and turns than a champion rodeo horse. Paige is an intriguing main character; strong-willed and tenacious, she puts herself in a position requiring rescue, but is not painted as a damsel in distress—more an imp who bites off more than she can chew, but, even in distress, she’s key to solving the mystery.
A ’can’t-put-down’ read that you will thoroughly enjoy. I give it five stars.
Miss Seeton, a retired art teacher, after seeing a performance of ‘Carmen,’ witnesses a real-life stabbing. When she jabs the assailant with her umbrella, he turns and pushes her down, but in that instant flash of sight, she sees enough to enable her to do a very realistic sketch which helps the police establish his identity. It also puts Miss Seeton in the killer’s sights.
Picture Miss Seeton by the late Heron Carvic is a dry-British-humor cozy mystery a la “Miss Marple,’ with a very proper British spinster who, with her umbrella and sketch pad, is able to solve the crimes that puzzle Scotland Yard. The dialogue and observations of very proper upper-class English manners will keep you chuckling from start to finish. Miss Seeton is a heroine to keep an eye out for.
Gemma Rose’s tearoom, in a little village near Oxford University, is doing well, until an American tourist is found in it, choked to death by a scone. With her establishment shut down as a crime scene, and the police suspecting members of her staff—among others—as possible murderers, Gemma must find the real killer, or face ruin. With the help of the Old Biddies, a cabal of elderly ladies addicted to snooping in police investigations, an old college love who is now a CID detective, and a peripatetic cat named Muesli, Gemma pulls out all the stops, exposing herself to the killer in the process.
A Scone to Die For by H. Y. Hanna is a light cozy done in traditional British style, with dashes of humor, that is a delightfully entertaining read. Plenty of false clues and daring escapades will keep you turning pages.
I give it five stars.
In 1923, young war widow Ginger Gold boards the S.S. Rosa, bound from Boston to Liverpool, to settle her late father’s estate in London. A few nights into the voyage, the captain of the vessel is found murdered, and among the long list of possible suspects is one Ginger Gold. With the help of her traveling companion, Haley Higgins, she’s determined to help CI Basil Reed, a passenger on the ship, find the real killer.
Murder on the S. S. Rosa by Lee Strauss is a short prequel to the Ginger Gold cozy mystery series that has all the hallmarks of a fascinating mystery series. Rich descriptions of the social mores of the era, combined with heart-stopping suspense and action, this book ends all too soon—but, in a most satisfying manner. The author does a masterful job of creating believable characters; even the villains have some redeeming social graces, and credible motives.
A fascinating introduction to a character that will rival Miss Fisher in the cozy genre set in the period between world wars.
I give it five stars.
Less than ten minutes after arriving for her first cruise, a dead body is found near the ship’s bar. There’s speculation that the victim, a clerk in one of the ship’s stores, was murdered. Millie had previously worked for her husband’s PI agency, and decides to investigate the crime. This gets someone on board the ship upset, and she gets threats, but with a new-found friend, she persists, even though her new boss is one of the prime suspects.
Starboard Secrets by Hope Callaghan is a humorous cozy mystery with an interesting cast of characters. This is a quick read that can be done in one sitting, and is actually quite entertaining.
I give this opening salvo in the cruise ship cozy mystery series three and a half stars.
When Lexy Baker is offered a job as a fill-in pastry chef at a trendy resort, she sees it as a great way to combine work and pleasure, and spend some quality time with her fiancé, Roger, and her grandmother, Nan. It would be ideal, except for the testy head chef, Alain Dugasse, whose temperament and harsh treatment of the kitchen staff grates on her. Then, Lexy finds Dugasse, face up near a dumpster behind the kitchen, with a chef’s knife in his chest, and she becomes the number-one suspect in his murder.
With her grandmother, and her octogenarian friends, who belong to an amateur sleuthing club, Lexy sets out to solve the crime before her vacation ends with her behind bars.
Bake, Battle, & Roll by Leighann Dobbs is a humorous, but at times, chilling, cozy mystery set in the backdrop of the culinary world. Sandwiched between the episodes of her search for an elusive killer, Lexy takes time out to canoodle with Roger and prepare dishes that, on paper at least, sound scrumptious.
A delightful summer read. I give it four stars.
Father Brown, a rustic, English, Catholic priest, is hardly a heroic looking character, but his sharpness of mind and ability to get at the truth make him one of the most adept of fiction’s amateur sleuths. In a series of short stories first published in 1914, Father Brown’s creator, G. K. Chesterton pioneered the cozy mystery genre, mysteries where the protagonist is an often bumbling, well-meaning civilian who out-flanks the police in solving crimes.
In The Wisdom of Father Brown the reader is treated to Chesterton’s poetic use of language as was the mode in that era, and we meet Father Brown as he works his mental legerdemain to unmask a series of intriguing mysteries.
If you’ve ever watched any of the BBC’s ‘Father Brown’ shows, you’ll immediately recognize the cherubic priest with the rapier-sharp mind and often bumbling manner of stumbling upon the truth.
This is an entertaining trip back in time to a period when mysteries didn’t need four-letter words, gun battles, and car chases to be enjoyed. The language of the period will seem archaic and stiff to many modern readers, but the author was there, so one must assume that this is the way people actually talked.
I give this volume four stars.
After two years of hunkering down in her apartment, Verity Hawkes is drawn out of her solitude when she receives a call from a lawyer from the village of Leafy Hollow, informing her that her aunt is missing. She travels to Leafy Hollow to take over her aunt’s landscaping business. When one of her clients ends up dead, Verity is a prime suspect. If she is to avoid being confined to a space worse than her apartment for much longer than two years, Verity has to solve the crime.
From Garden to Grave by Rickie Blair is a delightfully funny cozy mystery set in a small Canadian village. Populated with a cast of quirky characters, including the protagonist, it has all the twists and red herrings you’d expect from the genre, and is a thoroughly entertaining read. This is the author’s first book in the Leafy Hollow Mysteries series, and if this is anything to go by, this series will be a hit.
I received a free copy of this book.
I give this author four stars for this one, and look forward to future offerings.
As the live-in manager of the Jolly Jester, Roland Rowntree lives an almost normal life. Normal, that is, until his barman, Sam, interrupts his morning routine to inform that there’s a dead body in the bar. Old Pete, one of the Jolly Jester’s regulars, is sitting in a back booth with a machete in his head, and the only viable suspect is Roland. Now, he knows he’s innocent, but no one else seems to believe him, so he’s left with nothing to do but solve the crime himself. He plunges his somewhat overweight body into the case, and with the help of the mysterious Miriam begins to uncover age-old secrets of the small village of Duckley that some rather dangerous people want to keep hidden.
Murder at the Jolly Jester by Ian Thompson is a droll mystery, the first in what promises to be an interesting series featuring the hapless Roland Rowntree. British writers excel in the cozy mystery, and Thompson has added a new wrinkle—humor. A nice fireside read.
I received a free copy of this book.
I give this opening salvo in the series four stars.
It was supposed to be a nice, quiet day at a local rodeo for sisters, Lea and Maddy, but things take a turn for the worse when a local rancher who’d been in a confrontation with Maddy’s friend, Scott, is found shot to death. The murder weapon belongs to Scott, but when the investigating detective, Tom, who has romantic feelings for Maddy, focuses on Scott as the prime suspect, she’s determined to prove his innocence.
She has trouble convincing Lea to help her investigate until Lea’s husband, Paul, learns that one of his clients, a land developer, is also a suspect because the victim had been refusing to sell his land to the client’s assistant. Paul had been against Lea’s involvement in criminal investigations, but, like Maddy, he’s convinced that his client is innocent and asks her to help prove it.
With no shortage of suspects, the two sisters begin to dig into everyone’s background, and in doing so, turn over rocks, exposing many dark secrets that people would rather remain hidden. All this is happening against the backdrop of Tom trying to bring down a shadowy figure known only as the Kingpin, the boss of an extensive drug and trafficking operation in coastal California.
The disparate threads of the two cases come together in an explosive conclusion in Murder Western Style by Rayna Morgan. If you’re a fan of cozy mysteries with protagonists who are always one step ahead of the police and the bad guys, you’ll love this book. It moves like a sidewinder from start to finish, and sinks its teeth into you without warning.
I received a free copy of this book
I give it four stars.
Charlie Parker is an accountant and partner in a PI firm with her elder brother. When an old friend, shows up at her firm asking her help to retrieve an expensive watch that was stolen from her by a man with whom she was having an affair, Charlie is conflicted. The friend ran off with Charlie’s fiancé, causing much heartbreak, and she’s reluctant to become involved. But, her natural curiosity and desire to help someone who is clearly troubled, causes her to take on the case. She quickly retrieves the watch, and thinks that’s the end of it, until the miscreant, a shady con man with a checkered past, is found shot to death in his driveway, and her old friend is the prime suspect.
Charlie is convinced the friend, despite their past troubled relationship, is innocent, and over her brother’s objections, begins to investigate. She’s no investigator, though, and makes many a false start, making herself the target of a mysterious assailant, as she pries into the dead man’s background, in the process disturbing a number of people who would rather not become involved.
Deadly Gamble by Connie Shelton is an e-book release of the author’s first novel in the Charlie Parker cozy series, which was published before the advent of electronic books, and has been reissued unchanged from the original. This is a well-plotted cozy mystery, with lots of red herrings and false clues that also has many of the faults of first novels. The few gaffes notwithstanding, the author’s skill shines through as she takes the heroine on a fast-paced journey to the resolution, which comes like a bolt out of the blue that will trip up even the most devoted mystery fans.
If you’ve never read Shelton before, this book is a good gamble, and is likely to whet your appetite for more of her work. I give this one four stars.
Iris Reid, an architect, is asked to teach a special course on architecture at Harvard. There, she meets Xander DeWitt, a famous Dutch architect, who is also a guest lecturer. When DeWitt is implicated in the case of a young girl, a Cambridge student, but claims that he’s never met the girl before, Iris finds herself in the position of being able to give him an alibi for the time the girl went missing, but unsure if he’s actually innocent.
The more she learns about the case, and about Xander, the more confused she becomes. Is he, as he claims, being framed, or is he an accomplished child predator, using her to cover his crime?
Façade by Susan Cory is a finely-tuned cozy mystery, with a long list of suspects, plenty of red herrings, and a surprise ending that marks this author as someone to keep an eye on.
I give this one four stars.