Book Review: Kale to the Queen by Nell Hampton

Kale to the Queen
A Kensington Palace Chef Mystery #1
Nell Hampton
Crooked Lane Books, April 2017
ISBN: 978-1-68331-104-1

The basic plot of Kale to the Queen is this. The protagonist, Carrie Ann Cole, has an incredible bit of luck and meets the Duchess of Windsor in New York. Because of this meeting, Carrie Ann is offered the position of personal chef for the royal family in Kensington Palace. When Carrie Ann arrives jet lagged, late and soaking wet from a down pour, she finds that she is in charge of  food for a children’s party that very day. So Carrie Ann is off and running in her new career without having time to catch a breath let alone settle in. Not the greatest of beginnings. Things get considerably worse when she finds one of her assistants dead in the kitchen green house and is questioned by the police. Because Carrie Ann is the protagonist, of course she starts nosing around the investigation and finds out some things that others would like to remain hidden. In the end, things work out for Carrie Ann and presumably we’ll see more of her each Spring for the foreseeable future. This is is a good thing. For while the book and Carrie Ann fall into some of the traps of cozy type mysteries, for the most part this is a solid first book leaving at least this reader wanting more.

Kale to the Queen is the first mystery the author  has written. This is an important point because there are a lot more things that can go wrong in writing mysteries versus other types of fiction. For the most part, Hampton was up to the task. In a mystery the characters, even the minor ones, need to be fairly well developed to make them believable as witnesses and potential suspects. This was done quite well. The plot needs clues for the readers to follow. The author needs to “play fair” with the readers. This was done well. Going right along with that, the plot needs some unexpected twists to keep the readers on their toes and again, this was done, though this could be improved on. Also there were red herrings, but not really enough to camouflage the solution. This left the reader with a good puzzle but  maybe not a great one to solve. Hopefully, now that Carrie Ann and the supporting cast are established, there will be more details to the mystery in following books. The one truly troublesome aspect of this book is that Carrie Ann falls into the “cozy mystery trap” of telling too much to too many people. Not only could this have gotten her hurt or possibly killed, in the real world would probably have resulted in her being fired. As for the standard elements of cozies, yes there are recipes, but just three and at the end of the book, not sprinkled throughout the story. I personally MUCH prefer the recipes at the end. No, Carrie Ann does not have a pet. Yes, there is a potential love interest-both a boyfriend left behind in Chicago and some potentials in England.

I assume I will not be the only reader who from the first page of the book looks for comparisons to Julie Hyzy’s delightful White House Chef books with Ollie Paras as the protagonist. And indeed, there are some easy comparisons to make. Both chefs cook in very high profile positions and are surrounded by tight security measures. Both have some issues with fellow staff members feeling like the chef is not quite up to the position-in Ollie’s case because she is a woman, in Carrie Ann’s case because she is an American. Both protagonists have high demand jobs so much of the action takes place in and around their jobs unlike many cozies where the protagonists seem to be free to treat their jobs more like hobbies than  professions. Also, both protagonists tend to rush into things and share information that perhaps should be given only to the police. By the end of the book though, Carrie Ann has established herself and her series. I look forward to reading many more adventures of Carrie Ann Cole.

Reviewed by guest reviewer Caryn St. Clair, March 2017.

Book Review: Lucky Penny by Ellie Ashe

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Title: Lucky Penny
Series: The Miranda Vaughn Mysteries #3

Author: Ellie Ashe
Narrator: Teri Schnaubelt
Publication Date: April 7, 2017

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Purchase Links:

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Lucky Penny
The Miranda Vaughn Mysteries #3
Ellie Ashe
Ellie Ashe, April 2017
Narrated by Teri Schnaubelt
Downloaded Unabridged Audio Book

From the author—

A year after her acquittal on fraud charges, former financial analyst Miranda Vaughn is finally getting her life back. Not only does she have a chance for romance with her sexy neighbor, FBI Agent Jake Barnes, but she’s also got a new job…one that’s taking her to a vacation paradise!

Perched above the crystal blue waters of Lake Tahoe, the Whispering Pines Resort & Spa is a local landmark and a popular destination for the rich and famous who are stressed out from being rich and famous. And down on the water’s edge is the Lucky Penny Casino – an abandoned shell of a once-stylish casino. Max Emmerson, the owner of the Whispering Pines Resort, used to own the Lucky Penny, and he wants it back. Miranda’s job is to get Max’s finances in order so he can borrow the money to buy the casino, and make sure nothing jeopardizes his gaming license. Easy, right?

But the nice boring accounting job spirals out of control with the addition of a Hollywood film crew, an underground gambling ring, and Jake going undercover at the resort as a newlywed – with another woman. As Miranda and Jake each dive into their investigations, they can’t deny their growing feelings for each other. But it’s more important than ever that they keep their attraction hidden. Especially since someone at the resort is watching them very closely, and is willing to do just about anything to keep them from uncovering the truth.

Fair warning to readers new to the series: I had no trouble jumping into it with the third book but those who are chronologically-driven probably would prefer to read in order. I’m just sayin’  😉

Technically speaking, Lucky Penny is a cozy that doesn’t quite meet the so-called requirements because it doesn’t take place in a small town, most of the characters don’t start out as bosom buddies and the protagonist isn’t a cook, crafter, organic farmer, bookseller, yogi, petsitter, etc., etc., etc. So, let’s just call it a cozy chick-lit caper, OK?

Miranda is a very likeable character who got in some legal trouble a while back and, although she was acquitted, her career is in shambles so she takes on a freelance job at a casino, one that she might not have been offered in the past but it could be a real boon for her. Naturally, what seemed to be a pretty simple task, not to mention a free luxury vacation, turns out to be much, much more. Before she knows what’s happening, Miranda is in the midst of financial shenanigans, an illegal gambling investigation, the filming of a movie and a couple of twisty turny romantic developments.

I could do without the woman-has-to-choose-between-two-guys routine but the romantic elements weren’t too intrusive and the various mysteries were entertaining enough plus the main players are appealing. Bottomline, I liked the story and the narration of the audio edition was a big plus. Ms. Schnaubelt is a very good reader with an easy tone and excellent pacing, clear diction and she does different voices quite well. Her interpretation of Miranda is especially good, exactly the right touch to pull me into Miranda’s world. Both Ellie Ashe and Teri Schnaubelt bring Miranda and crew to life.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, May 2017.

About the Author

USA Today best-selling author Ellie Ashe has always been drawn to jobs where she can tell stories—journalist, lawyer, and now writer. Writing quirky romantic mysteries is how she gets the “happily ever after” that so often is lacking in her day job.

When not writing, you can find her with her nose in a good book, watching far too much TV, or trying out new recipes on unsuspecting friends and family. She lives in Northern California with her husband and three cats, all of whom worry when she starts browsing the puppy listings on petfinder.com.

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Play an excerpt here.

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About the Narrator

Teri Schnaubelt is a Chicago-based actor, voice actor and audiobook narrator with over 100 titles, including NY Times Bestsellers.

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Follow the tour:

Chasing the Dollar (Book 1)

Apr. 16: CGB Blog Tours (Spotlight & Audio Excerpt)

Apr. 17: Dab of Darkness (Review)

Apr. 18: Guilty Indulgence Book Club (Review, Spotlight & Audio Excerpt)

Apr. 19: Desert Rose Reviews (Review, Spotlight, Audio Excerpt & Giveaway)

The Book Junkie (Spotlight & Interview)

Apr. 20: Lomeraniel (Review, Spotlight & Audio Excerpt)

Apr. 21: The Book Junkie (Review)

Apr. 22: Bound 4 Escape (Review)

Between the Coverz (Review, Spotlight & Audio Excerpt)

Dropping the Dime (Book 2)

Apr. 23: CGB Blog Tours (Spotlight & Audio Excerpt)

Apr. 24: Dab of Darkness (Review)

Apr. 25: The Book Junkie (Spotlight)

Apr. 26: Desert Rose Reviews (Review, Spotlight, Audio Excerpt & Giveaway)

Apr. 27: Guilty Indulgence Book Club (Review, Spotlight & Audio Excerpt)

The Book Junkie (Review)

Apr. 28: Lomeraniel (Review, Spotlight & Audio Excerpt)

Apr. 29: Bound 4 Escape (Review)

Between the Coverz (Review, Spotlight & Audio Excerpt)

Lucky Penny (Book 3)

Apr. 30: CGB Blog Tours (Spotlight & Audio Excerpt)

May 1: Dab of Darkness (Review)

May 2: Read Day and Night (Review)

The Book Junkie (Spotlight)

May 3: Spunky-n-Sassy (Spotlight & Audio Excerpt)

May 4: Desert Rose Reviews (Review, Spotlight, Audio Excerpt & Giveaway)

May 5: The Book Junkie (Review)

May 6: Between the Coverz (Review, Spotlight & Audio Excerpt)

May 7: Buried Under Books (Review)

May 8: Lomeraniel (Review, Spotlight & Audio Excerpt)

May 9: The Book Addict’s Reviews (Review)

May 10: Guilty Indulgence Book Club (Review, Spotlight & Audio Excerpt)

May 11: terriluvsbooks (Review, Author Interview & Giveaway)

May 12: Bound 4 Escape (Review)

May 13: Celtic Lady’s Reviews (Spotlight, Audio Excerpt & Giveaway)

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Book Review: The Decorator Who Knew Too Much by Diane Vallere

The Decorator Who Knew Too Much
A Madison Night Mystery #4
Diane Vallere
Henery Press, April 2017
ISBN 978-1-63511-195-8
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

When Interior Decorator Madison Night accepts an assignment in Palm Springs with handyman Hudson James, she expects designing days and romantic nights. But after spotting a body in the river by the job site, she causes a rift in the team. Add in the strain of recurring nightmares and a growing dependency on sleeping pills, and Madison seeks professional help to deal with her demons.

She learns more about the crime than she’d like thanks to girl talk with friends, pillow talk with Hudson, and smack talk with the local bad boys. And after the victim is identified as the very doctor she’s been advised to see, she wonders if what she knows can help catch a killer. An unlikely ally helps navigate the murky waters before her knowledge destroys her, and this time, what she doesn’t know might be the one thing that saves her life.

Madison Night is really not fond of surprises but they keep on coming, starting with a hit-and-run accident on the way to Hudson’s brother-in-law’s jobsite. That surprise doesn’t hold a candle to the one the next day when she discovers a body in the river at the jobsite but the real corker comes when the police can’t find any body.

Roiling the waters is our sleuth’s attraction to two very different men, Hudson and Tex, and I must say I don’t envy the choice she’ll have to make eventually. She did choose Hudson a few months ago but…

Madison is a woman who appeals to me because of her love of mid-century modern and all the trappings of the 50’s and 60’s. Doris Day is her muse, so to speak, and Madison does her best to recreate that world of charm and kindness. Madison is also middle-aged, not in perfect health and living with chronic pain from a knee injury which makes her unusually relatable for somebody like me who’s definitely not young and fit.

With a plot full of twists and turns and a certain edge to the story that makes it a little grittier than the usual cozy, I found myself making more than one guess as to the final denouement. I’ve read and enjoyed Ms. Vallere‘s work before and she’s solidified her status with me once again. Longtime fans and new readers will find much to like here.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, April 2017.

Book Review: Presumed Puzzled by Parnell Hall

Presumed Puzzled
A Puzzle Lady Mystery #17
Parnell Hall
Minotaur Books, January 2016
ISBN: 978-1-2500-6123-2
Hardcover

The Puzzle Lady novels are meant to be cute, and this one has some light moments, but since the lady in question ends up tried for murder it turns out to be anything but.  Actually, there are two courtroom scenes. First, the wife of the murder victim is initially charged with the crime, but halfway through the trial those charges are dismissed when a witness for the prosecution provides an alibi for her and another implicates Cora Felton, the Puzzle Lady.

It seems Cora was having an affair with the murdered man, and the irony is that she is employed by the wife’s attorney to find him after the wife reports him missing when he doesn’t come home from work.  And, to add insult to injury, Cora accompanies the Police Chief to his home only to discover him lying on the floor, having bled to death, and his wife covered with blood holding a butcher knife.

A series of clues appear to indicate Cora is guilty, and the courtroom drama plays out until she unravels the mystery by testifying for the prosecution in her own trial in typical Puzzle Lady fashion. While events throughout both trials are dramatic and push the story forward, it is unlikely that such occurrences could possibly take place in a real trial.  Of course, there is always a last minute fact or witness that occasionally pop up in real life, but hardly to the extent that this plot requires.  Other than this objection, the Puzzle Lady mysteries are always cute and fun, and so is this novel.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, January 2017.

Book Review: A Fatal Twist by Tracy Weber—and a Giveaway!

A Fatal Twist
A Downward Dog Mystery #4
Tracy Weber
Midnight Ink, January 2017
ISBN 978-0-7387-4878-9
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

Yoga instructor Kate Davidson’s life takes a chaotic turn once she agrees to not only be the doula for her pregnant best friend, but also play foster mother to two puppies. The chaos only gets worse when Kate finds the dead body of a philandering fertility doctor and Rachel, one of her yoga students, fleeing the scene.

Kate is convinced her student is innocent, and she sets out to find the real killer before her testimony condemns Rachel to a life behind bars. But her hands are full with caring for three dogs, teaching yoga classes, and gaining an unexpected crime-solving partner. If she’s not careful, Kate’s next yoga pose may be a fatal one.

Babies! They’re springing up everywhere, both humans and puppies, and Kate has her hands full learning to be a doula for her best friend, Rene, as she and her husband Sam await twins. In the meantime, Kate’s boyfriend, Michael, has brought home a pair of six-week-old abandoned labradoodles, Mutt and Jeff, and Kate agrees to foster them for a short while as long as Bella, her anxious German Shepherd with special needs, doesn’t get a chance to kill them.

First to get killed, though, is a doctor Kate knows superficially, a man who appears to have been as low as a man can be. His wife is a student of Kate’s and the killing happened in a birthing center where Rene plans to go so Kate has reasons to snoop among a plethora of girlfriends (current and ex), nurses and other doctors, not to mention prospective parents who might have had reasons to hate the fertility doc. She really needs to step in because all clues seem to nail the wife, Rachel, and the police don’t want to look further.

With each murder Kate encounters, she becomes more adept at investigating and at least one of the homicide detectives doesn’t really object so much because Kate frequently has something useful to offer. Humor abounds as does a cracking good sleuthfest, not to mention reminders of the perils of puppiedom and the joys and heartbreaks of animal rescue. Tracy Weber never lets me down.

This time, Rene would have been justified—and I would have approved—if she killed Sam who’s incredibly obnoxious and obsessed with what Rene eats. On the positive side, Bella and the puppies are delightful and I’m more enchanted with her than I was before, especially since she reminds me of my beloved granddog who also suffers from social anxiety around people and other dogs. All the characters I’ve come to enjoy are back, even the somewhat annoying ones, and I felt right at home with old friends.

On a personal note, I’ve been taking warm water Yogilates classes and have become more interested in the ins and outs of yoga. I actually paid more attention this time to Ms. Weber‘s pointers and got more out of it; I won’t say I’m ready for land yoga but I love the water kind and can’t help thinking how my instructors compare to Kate (other than running around looking for killers). I just need to figure out how to listen to these books on my iPod when I’m in the pool 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, April 2017.

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To enter the drawing for a gently
used advance
reading copy of
A Fatal Twist
by Tracy Weber,
leave a comment
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winning name will
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Thursday evening,
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Book Reviews: Mrs Pargeter’s Public Relations by Simon Brett and Desperate for Death by Judy Alter

Mrs Pargeter’s Public Relations
A Mrs Pargeter Mystery #8
Simon Brett
Crème de la Crime/Severn House, April 2017
ISBN 978-1-78029-092-8
Hardcover

From the publisher—

It is her characteristic generosity rather than her love of animals that finds Mrs Pargeter supporting her friend, Jasmine Angold, at a charity reception for PhiliPussies, whose worthy aim is to rehabilitate stray cats from the Greek island of Atmos into caring English homes. But the evening is to have unexpected consequences. At the event, Mrs P is taken aback to meet a woman who claims to be the sister of her late husband, the much-missed Mr Pargeter.

This surprising encounter leads to unwelcome digging into past secrets, the discovery of a body in Epping Forest, an eventful trip to Greece – and unexpected danger for Mrs Pargeter. In the course of her investigations, she learns the true nature of charity and the dubious skills by which Public Relations can make evil look good.

The Mrs Pargeter series is beguiling and delightful and this particular installment is no exception. Once again, the very wealthy and very kind widow finds herself in the midst of a puzzling crime and perhaps more.

Mrs Pargeter is always ready to help worthy causes with her money and her time but the latest, a cat rescue program, doesn’t really speak to her as she’s not particularly fond of cats. She agrees to go to a fundraiser because it’s important to her friend, Jasmine Angold, and Mrs Pargeter is all for supporting friends and those who are good to her, people such as Gary, her driver-on-call, and a security expert, Parvez. She found both in her late husband’s little black book full of experts in all sorts of activities. These experts were all connected in one way or another to her husband’s, er, illegal enterprises and while Mrs Pargeter would just as soon not know anything about said enterprises (to the point of not allowing anyone to mention them), she certainly appreciates the resulting wealth and the contents of the little black book.

When a very expensive necklace disappears from the charity auction, Mrs Pargeter is intrigued but even more so by the out-of-the-blue appearance of Rochelle Brighouse, a sister-in-law she never knew existed. Now, she has two mysteries to look into, the theft and this rather unpleasant woman, and she begins with a few questions to Gary and Parvez but is stymied by their surprising unwillingness to talk.

When Rochelle makes her agenda known and Mrs Pargeter realizes her husband’s reputation is at stake, she’s mobilized to do something about it. Add to that a murder connected to the cat rescue and our intrepid sleuth is soon doing what she does best.

 Mrs Pargeter is a woman wedded to fighting for good and against evil and this crime caper is as entertaining and full of dry humor as one could wish despite a bit of silliness (it’s puzzling why Brits would feel compelled to rescue cats from Greece when there are plenty of needy felines at home). She also is an unusual sleuth with her vast wealth and her ability to call on some of her husband’s very capable associates with their particular talents. All in all, it’s really easy to be charmed.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, April 2017.

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Desperate for Death
A Kelly O’Connell Mystery #6
Judy Alter
Alter Ego Publishing, January 2016
ISBN 978-0-9960131-7-8
Trade Paperback

From the author—

Just when Kelly’s life has calmed, she faces yet another of life’s puzzles. Except the pieces in this one don’t fit. First the apartment behind her house is torched, then a string of bizzare “accidents” occur to set her off-balance. Who is stalking her? Where does the disappearance of a young girl and her disreputable boyfriend fit in? And why are two men using the same name? Is the surprise inheritance another part of the puzzle? At a time when she is most vulnerable, Kelly can’t make the pieces fit. Before Kelly can get the whole picture, she helps the family of a hostage, rescues a kidnap victim and attends a wild and wonderful wedding.

Most of the time in a cozy, I get irritated with the love interest who’s a cop and he demands that his lady, our amateur sleuth, stay out of his business. This time, I’m irritated because Mike, the cop in question, blows off Kelly’s suggestion that the fire in her unoccupied guest house might have been set by someone out for revenge against him, a convict perhaps. Instead, he wants Kelly to think of someone who’s out to cause her trouble while he’s off doing his thing. Sure, she’s gotten involved in murders and other nefarious activities but surely any cop must know he’s a prime target. Weirdly, while dismissing any connection he might have, he also tends to disregard Kelly’s thinking about the case.

On the other hand, Kelly has a few other things on her mind.

My favorite character is definitely Keisha, Kelly’s completely indispensable assistant who’s flamboyant, nosy and very intuitive, not to mention streetsmart. I didn’t care for others quite so much, including Kelly and Mike, but the story was engaging. The action was a bit choppy but that actually kept things moving and the various leads and hunches gave me plenty to think about before all became clear.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, April 2017.

Book Review: Facials Can Be Fatal by Nancy J. Cohen

Facials Can Be Fatal
A Bad Hair Day Mystery #13
Nancy J. Cohen
Five Star, February 2017
ISBN 978-1-4328-3282-7
Hardcover

From the publisher—

During the frenzy of the December holidays, the last thing salon owner Marla Vail needs is a dead body slathered in a green facial mask at her new day spa.The victim, Valerie Weston, had been a major donor for Friends of Old Florida, a nonprofit historic preservation society.Marla’s stylists are scheduled to work backstage at their upcoming gala fashion show, but Val’s demise might put a crimp in their plans.

Hoping to salvage her reputation, Marla determines to track down the suspects. Although Val had been well liked by most people, she may have stumbled onto secrets that others would kill to keep. What are the connections between a greedy land developer, a dress designer whose husband may have links to the Asian mob, a mortician who might be involved in the human hair trade, and members of the nonprofit group’s board of directors? Are the latter as dedicated to their cause as they’d like Marla to believe, or do they have their own self-interests at heart?

Sparks are sure to fly when this smart stylist joins forces with her sexy detective husband to solve a decades-old mystery that includes a secret journal, pirate tales, and shipwrecks along the Florida coast. With the rollercoaster excitement, you might need a trip to the day spa to relax.

When a philanthropist dies in Marla Vail’s day spa while having a facial, the police step in since it was an unattended death but early thoughts are that Val Weston had a medical condition. Marla is horribly sorry, of course, but can’t help being trepidatious when she realizes the woman’s connection with an upcoming fashion show for which Marla and her stylists are contracted to do the models’ hair.

Meanwhile, there’s a lot of talk going on about babies as in when will Marla and Dalton have one. Why does everybody think babies must necessarily follow marriage? Isn’t a teenaged stepdaughter enough? Even Dalton is talking about it even though he knows why Marla doesn’t want a baby.

Marla’s also stressed just thinking about the upcoming gala, holiday plans, a pending lawsuit and the educator position she’s applied for but, when Dalton tells her Val was murdered, her snooping instincts come out. That predilection for finding useful information soon leads to a plethora of odd things that may or may not have anything to do with the murder…but someone clearly wanted Val dead.

The nice thing about this series—one of the nice things, that is—is that Dalton, Marla’s police detective husband, actually values her input in his investigations. It’s always a pleasure to see familiar folks in Marla’s life and a cast of characters was most welcome in keeping track of potential suspects. I’ve stuck with this series since the beginning and enjoyed this installment as much as any of them. I wonder what Marla and her crew will be up to next time 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, March 2017.