Book Review: Little Bookshop of Murder by Maggie Blackburn @molliecoxbryan @crookedlanebks

Little Bookshop of Murder
A Beach Reads Mystery #1
Maggie Blackburn
Crooked Lane, September 2020
ISBN 978-1-64385-438-0
Hardcover

As the story begins Summer Merriweather is on her way back to her hometown of  Brigid’s Island, NC from England where, during her summer break she was trying to write a paper for publication in the hope that she could save her job as a professor of Shakespearean literature at a Virginia college.  Her job is in jeopardy because she hasn’t published enough, and she fails too many students.  But the thing that really sealed her possible fate was an embarrassing video of her that went viral.  Summer is returning to her hometown because she learned of her mother’s death – the mother from whom she has been estranged for many years.

Upon her return Summer learns from her aunt Agatha, her mother’s sister, that the coroner ruled her mother’s death a heart attack which Summer refuses to believe because her mother, Hildy, was very healthy and never had heart problems.  Back on Brigid’s Island Summer is immediately surrounded by her mother’s friends who help out in the store, bring huge amounts of food, and with whom Hildy was in a book club for many years.  However, the police chief firmly believes that Summer’s mother did suffer a heart attack and, since he dislikes Summer for personal reasons, is not inclined to take her seriously and investigate.

So, with the help of her cousin Piper, Piper’s daughter Mia, and Summer’s aunt, Agatha, Summer begins investigating.  What she learns makes her even more suspicious that her mother’s death was not from natural causes:  her mother had no symptoms before the apparent heart attack, she had recently seen her doctor for a routine check-up, she went to her yoga class the morning of her death, then to work at the bookstore, and then, according to one of the other book club members who was working with her at the time, dropped to the floor and was dead.

Throughout her investigation there is a side story about Summer reading a book her mother was reading just prior to her death – a romance novel – just the kind of book Summer has always hated but to which she feels drawn.

I enjoyed this book, not because the mystery was tricky, and the outcome was difficult to figure out because neither is true but because I really liked the relationships in Summer’s family and with the women in the book club.  The book was supposed to come out in July 2020 (was delayed to September because of COVID) and I would have said it was a great beach read (a play on the bookstore’s name!) but it’s winter here in New England and we just got a foot of snow so maybe for some of you it’s beach weather but not here!

Reviewed by Melinda Drew, December 2020.

Book Review: Never Have I Ever by Joshilyn Jackson @JoshilynJackson @WmMorrowBooks

Never Have I Ever
Joshilyn Jackson
William Morrow, July 2019
ISBN 978-0-06-285531-2
Hardcover

Amy Whey is a happily married woman. She has a wonderful husband, a newborn son and a teenage step-daughter, all of whom she adores. She also has a group of woman friends in the neighbourhood. Her life is going well until a newcomer in the area joins Amy and her friends on their book club night.

Angelica Roux, or Roux as she insists they call her, charms the group and as the wine flows she suggests they play a fun game instead of discussing the chosen book. It’s a drinking game, a daring game, a game of revealing personal secrets.

At first it seems like harmless fun, but Amy senses something more is happening here and she grows increasingly uncomfortable as it turns serious. And later, after everyone heads home, Roux confronts Amy, telling her she knows all her personal secrets and will reveal them to her husband and friends unless Amy gives her what she wants; what she deserves.

Amy does have secrets and there is little doubt that Roux somehow knows what Amy did in the past, and if that knowledge is revealed, Amy is sure she will lose everything. Shocked and more than a little frightened, Amy is caught in a trap. Roux leaves, but not before telling Amy she’ll be back to let her know exactly what she wants.

Amy can’t imagine how Roux found out, but she is determined to find a way to protect her family and her marriage.

A cat and mouse game ensues. Amy manages to buy herself some time, counter-attacking as best she can, by doing some digging of her own in an attempt to neutralize Roux’s threat. As she’s struggling to keep her life on track, Roux seems to have the upper hand. The tension escalates. Amy feels she’s fighting a losing battle.

All the characters in this novel are well-drawn rounded people, especially Amy and I quickly got caught up in her predicament. I was on Amy’s side from the outset, anxious and eager for her to find a viable solution. There were many twists and turns to keep this reader turning pages. Amy’s determination and resourcefulness seemed to know no bounds, but Roux, a formidable opponent, was not about to give up.

The resolution was as stunning as it was unexpected, but none the less a fitting one.

I look forward to reading more from this author. Give this one a try, you won’t regret it.

Respectfully submitted.

Reviewed by guest reviewer Moyra Tarling, February 2020.

Book Review: Spirits of Pepin by Barbara Deese

Spirits of Pepin
A No Ordinary Women Mystery #4
Barbara Deese
North Star Press of Saint Cloud, Inc., September 2016
ISBN: 978-1-68201-032-7
Trade Paperback

Another adventure in the lives of No Ordinary Women, an interesting and varied book club of readers in Minnesota. Their insatiable curiosity is not limited to literature. And because they frequently read crime fiction, the five women who make up this group, often turn their collective gaze on odd and unusual events.

On a warm summer day, Louise, Robin, Cate, Grace and Foxy, set forth on Louise’s cabin cruiser for a day of relaxation on Lake Pepin, a long significant widening of the Mississippi River between Wisconsin and Minnesota. Embarking from Red Wing, the group motors into the northern reaches of Lake Pepin. Soon the weather threatens and they turn for the Minnesota shore and a leisurely return to the area near their marina.

In the near distance, Robin spots a sail boat moving erratically. It appears no one is at the helm. Moving to help, Louise maneuvers her craft to the sailboat and she and one of the women move to board the sailboat, only to discover a body lying on the cockpit deck. And thus begins the mystery.

Spirits of Pepin adeptly blends the real and the spirit worlds. Two of the women are sensitive to unseen forces and questions immediately arise. Who is the dead man? Why was he alone—if he was—on the boat? Why are dark forces surrounding the No Ordinary Women and what happened in the hours and days preceding this death?

The solution to the mystery involves a long and leisurely look at two families and the lives and talents of the five protagonists. For that reason, this mystery will appeal more to the thoughtful, comfortable mystery reader than to those on the action and violence-oriented reader.

The physical world of Red Wing and the upper reaches of Lake Pepin are well described and the relationships between the women logically characterized.

The careful consideration of numerous lives and relationships and the swirling unseen presence of the undeniable spirits that reside near Lake Pepin, adds up to an enjoyable reading experience.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, March 2018.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
The Case of the Purloined Painting, The Case of the Great Train Robbery, Reunion, Red Sky.

Book Reviews: Shear Murder by Nancy J. Cohen, Dying for a Dance by Cindy Sample, and No Rest for the Wicked by Elizabeth C. Main

Shear MurderShear Murder
Nancy J. Cohen
Five Star, February 2012
ISBN 978-1-4328-2554-6
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Weddings always make Marla Shore shed a tear of joy, and she’s elated to attend her friend Jill’s reception. Marla’s own nuptials are weeks away, and she’s busy following her frenetic to-do list. Her plans go awry when she discovers Jill’s matron of honor dead under the cake table, a knife embedded in her chest. Lots of folks aren’t sorry to see Torrie go, especially since the bride’s sister knew their deepest secrets. But when suspicion falls upon Jill, Marla wonders if her dear friend is truly innocent. She’d better untangle the snarl of suspects and iron out the clues before the killer highlights her as the next victim.

Weddings are much on hairdresser Marla’s mind these days, her own ceremony in a few weeks and the one coming up shortly that will unite her friend, Jill, with her husband-to-be—but will it unite Jill with her fractious sister, Torrie? Apparently not, as Marla discovers when she finds Torrie dead and it looks like it’s up to Marla to save her friend from being pegged as a murderer. Of course, she has to fit this in with her own pre-wedding tasks and running her salon. At times, the bad guys are a relief from the simmering hostilities between her and Dalton’s mothers but then someone tries to burn down her shop, a clear sign that she may be getting to close to the killer.

Marla Shore has been one of my favorite amateur sleuths for years and her escapades in Shear Murder are as entertaining as ever. Marla is a little different from your average amateur in a couple of ways. First, the woman is smart and she figures things out with a judicious amount of snooping rather than accidentally tripping over clues as so many do. The other thing that sets her apart is that the man in her life respects her intelligence and, even though he’s a police detective  and that sort usually disdains the efforts of such sleuths (and often rightfully so), Dalton actually encourages Marla. How refreshing!

Nancy J. Cohen is an author I always look for and I do hope #11 in the Bad Hair Day Mysteries series will be coming soon.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, December 2012.

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Dying for a DanceDying for a Dance
Cindy Sample
L&L Dreamspell, 2011
ISBN 978-1-60318-427-4
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

It takes two to tango-but only one to murder.

Lead-footed single mom, Laurel McKay, agrees to learn a foxtrot routine for her best friend’s wedding. After she trips her instructor, crashes into a pair of dancers and breaks the heel of her new shoes, she thinks her evening can’t possibly get any worse. Then she stumbles over another dancer. A dead one. With her broken stiletto heel stuffed in his mouth.

The action moves from the California Gold Country to Lake Tahoe as Laurel searches for the killer amid the sequins and flying feathers of a ballroom competition. Can she samba her way into the heart of the handsome detective who has once again entered her life? Or will dancing and detecting prove to be a lethal combination?

One, two, three, four. Too many suspects on this dance floor.
Five, six, seven, eight. Find the murderer before it’s too late.

I love traditional mysteries. I love them even more when they’re funny and Dying for a Dance is a very funny mystery. Laurel reminds me of a boss I used to have who was also a very good friend. Marilyn, like Laurel, was an attractive woman who usually had her act together and had a good man in her life (still does). She was one of those women it would be easy to hate because she seemed to have it all, you know the type? And then she would pull off a ridiculously silly and inept move, frequently involving her feet. One time, we were walking across an icy parking lot and she was suddenly not there—she had literally slid under a car. Another time, we were at a business dinner and she excused herself for a few minutes. On the way back across a tile floor, her feet went up in the air (she was wearing these shoes called Candies that were notorious accidents waiting to happen) and, the next thing we knew, she was flat on her back with her skirt over her face. All in view of our clients, of course.

So when I read Cindy Sample‘s stories about Laurel, I have a clear picture of her in my mind and I’m laughing before I even start. Fortunately, the author does not let me down. In this case, I can relate to this essentially clumsy woman having to stumble her way around a dance floor or face the wrath of Bridezilla and Laurel is clearly relieved, in a way, when she gets involved in a murder investigation. What better excuse could she have to avoid the dance floor?

Going along with Laurel as she annoys her detective boyfriend and a bunch of potential murder suspects, copes with her mother’s boyfriend who once suspected Laurel of murder, fends off amorous Russians and learns more than she wants to know about competitive dancing is pure fun and I really hope the third book is coming soon.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, December 2012.

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No Rest for the WickedNo Rest for the Wicked
Elizabeth C. Main
Five Star, 2011
ISBN 978-1-4328-2504-1
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Jane Serrano, 43-year-old widow and founder of the Murder of the Month Book Club, just wants life to return to normal at Thornton’s Books in Juniper, Oregon. Ten months after being dubbed the “Bookstore Heroine” for unexpectedly bringing a killer to justice, her life hasn’t settled down at all. Though Jane at first found the attention flattering, now she’s had enough and wants to explore the intriguing possibilities of a romantic relationship with local attorney Nick Constantine.

However, the other charter members of the book club relish the ride on the celebrity bandwagon. Business at Thornton’s Books is booming and the club’s been swamped with entreaties to join–no surprise, given the widespread publicity the group received. Between the fan mail and the tourists stopping by, they’ve barely had time to read mysteries for their regular meetings. Jane attempts to keep the unwieldy group grounded in reality, but it’s tough going.

Following the discovery of a new corpse in the sagebrush, book club member Alix Boudreau finds the finger of the law pointed straight at her. The murdered man, Hunter Blackburn, was a skilled con artist . . . and Alix’s ex-husband. Alix had both motive and opportunity to kill Blackburn. Her friends set about finding the real killer, using the  goodhearted ineptitude they first demonstrated in Murder of the Month. Jane tosses aside her hope of tranquility and sets to work. Solving the earlier crime was righteous fun. This time it’s deadly serious.

When Jane’s friend Alix gets involved in  murder, the mystery devotees of the Murder of the Month book club quite naturally expect her to solve it because, after all, she did it once before, didn’t she? Jane can’t seem to convince them otherwise but then her hackles are raised by the lazy sheriff who jumps to a conclusion she’s sure is wrong and who won’t even consider other possibilities. Obviously, Jane will have to find the killer before Alix is sent up the river.

Ms. Main has a nice touch with crafting a puzzle and I have to confess to being distracted, as intended, by the red herrings here and there. I was also distracted, in a very good way, by the chuckles that ensued whenever the book club members were on the scene, especially when they take a road trip, but it was also clear that these folks cared a lot about each other and they made smalltown life seem very appealing. And can I please have some of Minnie’s weaponry cookies?

I really want to spend some more time with Jane, Minnie and the rest of the gang—including the loveable Wendell, dog extraordinaire— so I hope Ms. Main is going to give us a third book sooner rather than later.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, December 2012.