Book Review: A Killer Edition by Lorna Barrett @LornaBarrett @BerkleyMystery

A Killer Edition
A Booktown Mystery #13
Lorna Barrett
Berkley Prime Crime, August 2019
ISBN 978-1-984-80272-9
Hardcover

Readers living in good sized cities without any bookstore will be envious of the tourist town of Stoneham, known as Booktown. Here Tricia Miles runs a mystery bookstore, “Haven’t Got a Clue.” Her sister Angelica runs a cookbook store and café, and Joyce Widman’s bookstore, “Have a Heart” specializes in romances. In the thirteenth book in the Booktown series, New York Times bestselling author Barrett spins another satisfying mystery, with familiar  characters that would populate any small town.

Tricia has more time on her hands, now that her assistant Pixie takes on more of the duties at the store. A position has opened up on the board of the local animal rescue organization, and Tricia would like to volunteer. She’s also practicing her baking skills for the Great Booktown Bake-Off and her love life is stuck in a rut. Her sister Angelica recommends she pick up a couple of good romance books.

On her way to the romance bookstore, Tricia interrupts an argument between the store’s owner Joyce and her neighbor Vera Osborn. Tricia picks up some romances and agrees to stop by Joyce’s house later for some plants from her garden. When Tricia arrives at Joyce’s home, she discovers Vera’s body, run through with a pitchfork.

In addition to a good read, there are bonus cupcake recipes included in the book. This will give the reader something to bake while waiting for the next book in the series.

Reviewed by Susan Belsky, December 2019.

Book Review: Miss Julia Takes the Wheel by Ann B. Ross

Miss Julia Takes the Wheel
Miss Julia #20
Ann B. Ross
Viking, April 2019
ISBN 978-0-525-56048-7
Hardcover

This is the 21st in this popular series but it is the first I’ve read.  So, a bit of background for those who also haven’t read others in the series.  The series is set in North Carolina and the main character is Miss Julia, a wealthy white southern woman.  In this book, Miss Julia is very concerned because her doctor and his wife are taking an extended European vacation, leaving the doctor’s practice to a substitute.  Although neither Miss Julia nor her husband, Sam, are ill, she worries that they could become ill and have to see a doctor they do not know.

Having been asked to reach out to the substitute doctor (Dr. Don Crawford) and his wife (Lauren), Miss Julia invites them to dinner and introduces them to other couples who are friends of hers.  While Miss Julia finds the doctor to be charming, the dinner is strained due, in part, to Lauren’s shyness and unwillingness to talk  other than to answer direct questions.  Later her friends raise some concerns about Don.  Nevertheless, Miss Julia and her friend Hazel Marie try, with limited success, to engage Lauren in local activities including play dates with Hazel Marie’s and Lauren’s children.  Meanwhile, Miss Julia is also helping her friend’s teenage son with learning to drive.

There is much going on in this book including a mystery, the outcome of which was not hard to deduce, Miss Julia’s willingness to help her friends in need, and her often self-sacrificing behavior.  While I realize that this series is considered funny and entertaining, this book deals with a serious problem which is neither funny nor entertaining.

Finally, I  want to address the  conversations between Miss Julia and her African- American maid, Lillian.  While Miss Julia turns to Lillian for advice and takes Lillian into her confidence, Lillian’s side of their conversations is written in a particular manner that clearly puts her in a lower social class than Miss Julia.  To illustrate with just a few examples of which there are many:  Lillian’s dialogue includes “ast” instead of “asked”; “liberry” instead of “library”; and “growed up” instead of “grown up.”  This comment is not directed toward any region’s way of speaking but rather to the obvious racial overtones in such conversations.  Because I did not find the book funny, nor the mystery a challenge, and I was put off by the thinly veiled racism in the narrative, I do not recommend this book.

Reviewed by Melinda Drew, December 2019.

Book Review: Puddin’ on the Blitz by Tamar Myers @severnhouse

Puddin’ on the Blitz
A Pennsylvania-Dutch Mystery #21
Tamar Myers
Severn House, December 2019
ISBN 978-0-7278-8915-7
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Although the culinary fare at Magdalena Yoder’s new restaurant, Asian Sensations – a unique combination of Asian and Amish cuisine – is not to everyone’s taste, the good citizens of Hernia are unanimously agreed that the desserts concocted by the restaurant chef, Barbara Hostetler, are to die for.

Not literally however. When a guest at the PennDutch Inn drops dead shortly after consuming a slice of Barbara’s delicious Blitz torte, Magdalena finds herself arrested for murder. Did someone deliberately set her up? In order to clear her name and protect her nearest and dearest, Magdalena must identify a ruthless killer – before they strike again.

Tamar Myers has been entertaining mystery readers—including me, most decidedly—for many years and this latest Pennsylvania Dutch entry is no exception to the rule. Magdalena Yoder is an enduring protagonist and, after so many adventures, has gotten amateur sleuthing down to a fine science, you might say.

Now, if you’re looking for a dynamic crime thriller with a well-tuned sleuth, you’re in the wrong place. Magdalena isn’t always the nicest person around, a bit too sharp-tongued, and, as cozies often do, a lot of attention is directed towards her personal life and the goings-on in the inn and the village. The mystery to be solved isn’t as strong as in some earlier books but it’s interesting and there are some  unusual aspects to it, not least of which is the true identities of the couple who rented the restaurant for an exclusive meal.

This is the first in the series that I’ve read in several years but I had no trouble catching up, so to speak, and I enjoyed it even though it’s not quite up to snuff with some of the previous books. It’s a nice read for a lazy day and I’ll definitely be back.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, December 2019.

Short Story Review: A Charming Christmas by Tonya Kappes @tonyakappes11

A Charming Christmas
Magical Cures Novella
Tonya Kappes
Cozy Mystery Publishing, November 2014
Ebook

From the author—

Whispering Falls is having a winter storm warning. Not only from a blizzard, but a thief. . . the Whispering Falls Grinch. Sheriff Oscar Park is snowed in the nearby town of Locust Grove and unable help catch the unwanted visitor in their magical town. It is up to June Heal and her familiars, Mr. Prince Charming and Madame Torres, to put their amateur sleuthing skills to work and bring the Whispering Falls Grinch to justice.

Psychic June Heal is on her own, sort of, in finding a local thief who’s messing with Christmas in the magical town of Whispering Falls. She’s on her own because her beloved wizard sheriff is snowed in in another town but she does have her familiars, Mr. Prince Charming and Madame Torres, to give her an assist.

This town of spiritualists doesn’t really celebrate Christmas usually but the Village Council decided to have a month-long bazaar to draw in shoppers. A few citizens are disgruntled about it but most get into it with lots of decorations, caroling, festive street lights and the like. Too bad some misguided grinch is stealing the shop decorations; is this thief all that upset about celebrating the season? Then again, perhaps June will discover something else entirely and save the bazaar.

There are no murders here, just a fun little story to enjoy along with a cup of cocoa and a Christmas cookie; fans of the series as well as new readers will relish this visit to Whispering Falls  😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, December 2019.

Book Review: Paw of the Jungle by Diane Kelly @DianeKellyBooks @StMartinsPress

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Book Review: Eggs on Ice by Laura Childs @BerkleyMystery

Eggs on Ice
A Cackleberry Club Mystery #8
Laura Childs
Berkley Prime Crime, December 2018
ISBN 978-0-425-28172-7
Hardcover

Eggs on Ice is the eighth in Laura Childs’ Cackleberry Club Mysteries so for those of you who are fans of this series the characters will be familiar.  For those of you who are new to the series I think you’ll catch up quickly.  The main character is Suzanne Dietz, one of the co-owners of the Cackleberry Club and an amateur investigator.  As the story begins, Suzanne and one of her co-owners, Toni, are helping with costumes, sets, and lighting for their neighbors who are rehearsing for a production of “A Christmas Carol”.  The rehearsal comes to an abrupt halt when lawyer Allan Sharp who is playing Scrooge is murdered by the Ghost of Christmas Past.  Suzanne chases the Ghost but stops when he, she, or it turns on her and threatens her with a knife.

The investigation is complicated by the fact that no one liked Allan except his law partner, but the investigation quickly focuses in on Amber, a woman who worked for Allan for a short while but quit when he sexually harassed her.  Amber and Suzanne have a mutual friend and that friend suggested Amber ask Suzanne for help.  However, it soon becomes clear that Amber has a motive for killing Allan but so do several others and narrowing the suspect field is more difficult than Suzanne anticipated.  Enlisting Toni’s help, Suzanne begins her own investigation much to the annoyance of the Sheriff and the fears of her fiancé, a doctor at the local hospital.

Eggs on Ice is a cozy mystery with well-drawn characters and a couple of nice twists.  It’s set during the holiday season and the cold and snow might be just what you need when our sweltering August/early September heat and humidity return.

Reviewed by Melinda Drew, August 2019.

Book Review: Dressed to Kill by Kathleen Delaney @kdkoppang @severnhouse

Dressed to Kill
A Mary McGill Canine Mystery #4
Kathleen Delaney
Severn House, November 2019
ISBN 978-0-7278-8894-5
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Mary McGill and her cocker spaniel Millie get the fright of their lives on Halloween when they hear gunshots coming from the bank and the robber, dressed in a clown costume, points his gun at them before fleeing the scene. Mary is horrified when she discovers Police Chief Dan Dunham has been shot in the shoulder and a woman has been killed. Why would the clown shoot an ordinary citizen?

Mary soon learns that the victim is Victoria Witherspoon, a local woman who owned a sewing shop and must have recognised the clown costume – because she made it herself. With Dan in hospital and unable to investigate, can Mary and Millie unmask the savage killer clown before he strikes again?

Like a whole lot of other people, I really hate clowns and I felt this way even before Stephen King gave us IT (a great book, BTW, despite my aversion). Still, I know Kathleen Delaney‘s work and had no doubt this particular clown would leave my nerves alone…and I was right 😉

Police Chief Dan Dunham, Mary McGill’s nephew-in-law, is shot by a bank robber dressed as a clown but he’s not the only victim. The local seamstress, Victoria Witherspoon, might have been killed because she could identify the robber, despite the rubber mask. Dan will be recovering from surgery for a while and Mary saw the robber run out of the bank so she decides she’ll need to help Detective Sean Ryan from San Louis Obispo Homicide even though he’s rude and obnoxious. Mary has to oversee the cleanup from the very successful Halloween in the Park event she chaired but, more importantly, she’s pretty sure there’s something familiar about the clown and she needs to figure it out.

With more than a little help from her Cocker Spaniel, Millie, and some human friends, Mary thinks her way through some baffling leads, frequently a half-step ahead of law enforcement officials. That’s at least partly because the locals soon tire of the “imported” detective and his supercilious attitude that actually gets in the way of seeing clues; those same locals have come to believe in Mary’s sleuthing abilities after several earlier crimes. Soon enough, another death increases the pressure and Mary’s common sense and the wisdom that comes with age become invaluable in identifying the killer and the “why” behind the crimes. I thoroughly enjoyed not only this story but also spending time with some old friends and new, not to mention the delightful four-legged variety.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, November 2019.

Note: Goodreads, Amazon and other sites all have this incorrectly listed as Book 19 but it’s really Book 4 in the series. Mary McGill appears in several earlier books but she’s the central character in these four books.