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.

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Book Review: Treble at the Jam Fest by Leslie Budewitz

Treble at the Jam Fest
A Food Lovers’ Village Mystery #4
Leslie Budewitz
Midnight Ink, June 2017
ISBN 978-0-7387-5240-2
Trade Paperback

Jazz guitarist Gerry Martin, one of the headliners at the Jewel Bay, Montana, jazz festival, falls to his death from the rocks above the Jewel River. Local police call it an accident, that Martin slipped while out hiking, but Erin Murphy has her suspicions. Erin is manager of Murphy’s Mercantile, a general store in this food lovers’ town. There seems to be bad blood between Martin and Dave Barber, local musician who upstaged Martin in the concert on opening night. Newcomer Gabrielle Drake and her pushy stage mother also seem to have a problem with the headliner.

When Erin examines the crime scene, she notices a discarded coffee cup overlooked by the police, as well as the footprints left by the victim. Would Gerry Martin wear dress boots when setting out for a hike along rugged terrain? No, but he might if he was planning to meet someone.

Subplots and supporting characters surround Erin and her store—she hires a new salesperson, finally gets to meet her boyfriend’s best friend from childhood, and her mother has news of her own. Erin is more level -headed and believable than many of the protagonists in cozy mystery series, and Jewel Bay is a setting than carries the story along. Who wouldn’t like to visit a town with such a variety of restaurants, shops, and festivals, set in the natural beauty of Montana? Recipes are included, rhubarb fans will be especially pleased. This is the fourth book in the series, but it stands well on its own.

Reviewed by Susan Belsky, May 2018.

Book Review: The Hostess with the Ghostess by E. J. Copperman

The Hostess with the Ghostess
A Haunted Guesthouse Mystery #9
E. J. Copperman
Crooked Lane Books, January 2018
ISBN: 978-1-6833-1450-9
Hardcover

Alison Kerby returns in the 9th book in the Haunted Guesthouse Mystery series by E.J. Copperman.  Alison, a single mother in her late thirties, runs a guesthouse in her childhood hometown of Harbor Haven, on the Jersey Shore, inhabited by her and her precocious thirteen-year-old daughter, as well as Maxie Malone, Alison’s resident Internet expert, and Paul Harrison, an English/Canadian professor turned detective, both of whom have lived there since before their deaths, and her deceased father.  It would seem that Alison, her daughter and her mother are the only ones who can see the ghosts.  She now acknowledges the ghostly residents, and advertises the inn as a Haunted Guesthouse, specializing in Senior Plus Tours which include twice-daily ‘spook shows.’   From the publisher: Things are never quiet for long at the Haunted Guesthouse.  Right as Alison Kerby finally gets some peace, long-time deceased Paul Harrison’s recently murdered brother, Richard, shows up looking for the ghostly detective.  But Paul has left for parts unknown months ago – – and Alison doesn’t know how to find him.  As she searches for Paul, Alison discovers that Richard, who was a lawyer, was working a case about a woman accused of murdering her stepfather.  It quickly becomes clear that Richard was getting too close to the truth and was forcibly kept quiet.  Now as Alison continues her investigation, she gets a creeping sensation that the murderer doesn’t appreciate her snooping around.  And if she doesn’t stop, she’ll be next . . .

I found it very helpful to have a “Cast of Characters” on the page before page 1 of the book.  I also loved the first paragraph:  “’Something’s missing.’  I was sitting on a barstool next to the center island in my kitchen, having a conversation with five other people, two of whom were alive.”  But Alison, whose quote that is, quickly goes on to explain, and to introduce those with her, both living and otherwise.  After getting divorced from her 1st husband, who she not-so-lovingly refers to as “the Swine,” she returns to her hometown of Harbor Haven, on the “deservedly famous Jersey Shore,” where she opens her guesthouse. Her euphemisms for the ghosts who reside there, after she introduces the “alive people in the room,” range from “non-living” to those who have been “deprived of life,” but they definitely come to life in this delightful, wholly entertaining book. There is also Maxie’s ghost husband, Everett, who still spends time at the local gas station, where he died. He thinks of it as standing guard at his post.

When first meeting the aforementioned Richard, her “first thought was, “I wonder if he’d do some spook shows.”  Alison et al agree to search for his missing dead brother, who she refers to as her “conscience. He was the Jiminy Cricket of ghosts.”  Alison has now been remarried for four months, to one Josh Kaplan.  Also added to the mix is her daughter Melissa’s little adopted ghost dog, destined to “always be a puppy,” of course.  I loved the comment made when Melissa’s interactions with Alison prompts the latter to think that she couldn’t even be grumpy, which puts “something of a damper on my day.  If you can’t be grumpy, what’s the point of being from New Jersey?”  The plot moves nicely into the investigation inhttp://www.ejcopperman.com/to the murders, which is resolved with contributions from the ghosts, of course.

As I have said in the past about the Copperman books, and it remains just as true, the writing is wonderful, with the author’s s trademark laugh-out-loud wit and intelligence, well-plotted mystery and very well-drawn characters, alive or otherwise.  My preference in mystery genres generally does not include either “cozies” or books dealing in the supernatural (not that there’s anything wrong with those, and many of my best friends love them, I hasten to add).  But this author’s writing overcomes any such reluctance on my part – – his books are always thoroughly delightful, and highly recommended.  His dedication to several brilliant comics of years past ends with the words “there aren’t enough funny people in the world,” a deficit which he certainly helps to overcome.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, January 2018.

Book Review: Reservations for Murder by Tim Myers

Reservations for Murder
A Lighthouse Inn Mystery #2
Tim Myers
Berkeley Prime Crime, 2002
ISBN 978-0-425-18525-4
Mass Market Paperback
Currently available in trade paperback and electronic editions

Proprietor of the Hatteras West Inn, Alex Winston would  just as soon not get involved with another murder. Unfortunately, some people just aren’t very considerate and blacksmith Jefferson Lee has been literally skewered to a timber of Alex’s new building, hoist on his own petard, so to speak. The Golden Days Fair, showcasing old-fashioned artisans and crafters, is about to open on the inn’s grounds and there are way too many potential suspects. If Alex is going to prevent more bad publicity, he’s going to have to do some snooping of his own…

Author Tim Myers brings back a delightful cast of small-town characters in this sequel to Agatha-nominated Innkeeping With Murder and introduces us to a few more we’ll hope to meet again. Alex’s sleuthing, hindered somewhat by an old girlfriend’s amorous hints and the dislike that nearly everyone felt for the murdered man, is not
especially appreciated by the local sheriff but Alex is convinced the sheriff is heading in the wrong direction. In the meantime, his housekeeper and friend, Ellie, has left town and gossip has it she’s not coming back. So what else can go wrong?

Reservations for Murder and it’s predecessor, Innkeeping With Murder, are highly recommended for everyone who loves a true cozy mystery.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, June 2002. Slightly revised 2018.
Review first published on murderexpress.net in 2002.

{Note: resurrecting this old review has reminded me how much I liked Tim in my bookstore days and has prompted me to do a series re-read 😉

Book Reviews: A Measure of Murder by Leslie Karst and Mile High Murder by Marcia Talley

A Measure of Murder
A Sally Solari Mystery #2
Leslie Karst
Crooked Lane Books, February 2018
ISBN 978-1-68331-493-6
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

Sally Solari is busy juggling work at her family’s Italian restaurant, Solari’s, and helping Javier plan the autumn menu for the restaurant she’s just inherited, Gauguin. Complicating this already hectic schedule, Sally joins her ex-boyfriend Eric’s chorus, which is performing a newly discovered version of her favorite composition: the Mozart Requiem. But then, at the first rehearsal, a tenor falls to his death on the church courtyard–and his soprano girlfriend is sure it wasn’t an accident.

Now Sally’s back on another murder case mixed in with a dash of revenge, a pinch of peril, and a suspicious stack of sheet music. And while tensions in the chorus heat up, so does the kitchen at Gauguin–set aflame right as Sally starts getting too close to the truth. Can Sally catch the killer before she’s burnt to a crisp, or will the case grow as cold as yesterday’s leftovers?

Good food and good music go together beautifully but not so much when death—most likely murder—is in the mix. Sally Solari had looked forward to singing in the chorus performing this special piece but gets drawn into the peculiarities surrounding Kyle’s death. She has very little spare time in her life for this, though, because she’s working at both her family’s restaurant and the one she recently inherited from her aunt but Sally is a Type-A Energizer Bunny who can be downright exhausting. In fact, the one weakness (in my mind) was that, because Sally is often off chasing leads, we don’t get to spend as much time as I would like in the restaurants but then I’m an unofficial foodie 😉

Nobody wishes death on people but Kyle was not a pleasant person and, quite frankly, he won’t be missed by many other than his girlfriend, Jill. It isn’t long before possible motives seem to pile up and Sally becomes suspicious about several possible killers but I have to say it took me a while to settle on one. Before Sally can bring the perpetrator to justice, she becomes a target herself.

As a former attorney, Sally is probably more qualified than most amateurs to investigate a crime and that lends her snooping a certain credibility other amateurs don’t have but her rationale still doesn’t hold much water. That’s okay, however, because (1) this is a cozy and sleuths in cozies don’t need a lot of justification and (2) I enjoyed this mystery as much as the first in the series. Let’s face it, Sally and her family and friends are fun to be around—I especially enjoyed re-connecting with Javier and Eric—and we’re rewarded at the end with a handful of recipes that just might entice you to try them out. I’m feeling the munchies for the grilled cheese sandwich right now 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, May 2018.

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Mile High Murder
A Hannah Ives Mystery #16
Marcia Talley
Severn House, April 2018
ISBN 978-0-7278-8768-9
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Hannah Ives embarks on a trip to the Mile High City on a fact-finding mission. But is she about to get ‘high’ on murder?

It’s a well-known fact that some of the Reach for Recovery cancer support group survivors Hannah Ives works with take marijuana. Recreational use of the drug may be illegal, but a few, like Maryland State Senator Claire Thompson, are prescribed it on medical grounds.

Claire has co-sponsored a Cannabis Legalisation Bill and wants Hannah to be part of a fact-finding task force that testifies before the Maryland State Senate.

Before long, Hannah is in Denver, Colorado – the Mile High City – staying at a B&B with a group of pot pilgrims and medical refugees – some of whom, like her, are on a mission for information. But when one of the group is found dead, and a closer inspection of the body reveals they may not be who they seem, Hannah is plunged into a dangerous cocktail of drugs and death.

Hannah Ives has been a comfortable fictional friend for a long time now and I’m always happy to see a new book come out. This time she gets involved in “research” to bolster State Senator Claire Thompson’s hopes to get a marijuana bill passed in Maryland, one to broaden and organize the specifics of already passed legislation that legalized the drug for medical use. To do this, they have to go to a state where recreational pot use is already lawful so they head out to Colorado, Denver to be specific. As a long-term cancer survivor, Hannah doesn’t need medical marijuana but Claire has a prescription and is inclined to use it even if she’s at risk of being caught breaking the law.

Hannah decides to go, mainly because she’ll have a chance to testify before the senate, a taste of the old days when she dealt with bureaucrats on a regular basis. This seems like a fairly simple task but Hannah did try to tell Claire that Hannah seems to attract dead bodies, a lengthy list of them, in fact. Still, they didn’t expect to find themselves so completely surrounded by hippie types and a million different ways to indulge at their “bud-and-breakfast”, Bell House…nor did they expect a fellow guest to be a victim of foul play.

I think the mystery here is a little less suspenseful than in Hannah’s previous adventures but I still had a good time learning all the ins and outs of legalized marijuana and watching Hannah do what she does so well, identify a murderer. Fans will be happy to see her again (and, Paul, her lovely Navy professor husband) but new readers might want to start with at least the first book to have a better idea of who Hannah is.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, May 2018.

Book Review: Murder at the Bus Depot by Judy Alter and Lethal in Old Lace by Duffy Brown

Murder at the Bus Depot
A Blue Plate Cafe Mystery #4
Judy Alter
Alter Ego Press, March 2018
ISBN 978-0-9990371-5-7
Trade Paperback

From the author—

Is the depot a symbol of the worst episode in a town’s history or does it stand for revitalization, bringing the citizens of Wheeler together with pride in their community?

Kate Chamber’s trouble antenna goes up when Dallas developer Silas Fletcher decides to help “grow” Wheeler. She and her brother-in-law, Mayor Tom Bryson, have less spectacular and drastic ideas for revitalizing the town. When Old Man Jackson dies in an automobile accident, the specter of the past comes back to haunt the town. Thirty years ago, Jackson’s daughter, Sallie, was murdered at the bus depot. The murder is still unsolved.

Kate and Silas clash over almost everything, from the future use of the abandoned depot to a fall festival celebrating Wheeler. Another murder at the depot blows the town apart, and Kate know she must do something to solve the murders and save her town, let alone the festival she’s planning.

One of the things I like about this series is that each book, while clearly part of a series, is pretty well self-contained and can be read as a standalone. The author provides enough backstory so the reader has an understanding of earlier episodes but not so much that spoilers ruin the previous stories.

Kate and her fellow Wheeler citizens feel like old friends and the town itself reminds me of so many small towns dotted here and there, especially those that are suffering from a failing economy. Some of the local businesses are about ready to move while other townsfolk are always ready to talk about what might be done to bring in tourists and, thus, at least moderate cash infusion. When a developer comes to town with big ideas, Kate feels compelled to preserve the old bus depot where an unsolved murder occurred years ago but she certainly wasn’t prepared for a new killing.

Kate is a thoughtful woman, by which I mean she doesn’t go rushing willy-nilly into dangerous situations but thinks things through. The town of Wheeler has become her home and she’s intent on protecting it, a cause I can appreciate.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, April 2018.

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Lethal in Old Lace
The Consignment Shop Mysteries #5
Duffy Brown
Crooked Lane Books, March 2018
ISBN 978-1-68331-535-3
Hardcover

From the publisher—

There are two social functions in Savannah guaranteed to get people talking: weddings and funerals. And just as consignment shop owner Reagan Summerside agrees to marry the hunky Walker Boone, her neighbors, sisters Annie Fritz and Elsie Abbot, step up their business as professional mourners. They are so successful that the Sleepy Pines Retirement Center has hired them as a part of their retirement package. But the celebration over good business is cut short when the residents at Pines suddenly begin dying at an alarming rate. And the sisters are the first suspects.

Reagan has her doubts, however, and begins to look into the strange phenomenon. But then something even stranger happens: a body winds up in the sisters’ pink Caddy. The evidence begins to pile up and the suspicious case of Willie Fishbine, who swindled the sisters out of a fortune and coincidentally died prior to the Pines case, is reopened.

Not wanting Willie to be buried until they can find the killer responsible for the murders, Reagan must catch the culprit in time to walk down the aisle.

There’s no place better than Savannah for a consignment shop and the city has the extra attraction of feeling like a small town in the sense that everyone knows who’s who and what’s what. It’s no surprise that shopkeeper Reagan would get involved when Annie and Elsie are suspected of doing away with some of the senior citizens at Sleepy Pines to beef up their most unusual business. With the help of her cohorts, particularly Aunt Kiki and Reagan’s mom, Judge Gloria, the race is on to prove the sisters’ innocence and still get Reagan to the church on time, so to speak.

Once again, humor fills the pages of Reagan’s latest escapade and the case is as wacky as they come. I do recommend a reader new to the series start with the first one and be prepared to be totally charmed by this Southern fiction with a mysterious flair 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, April 2018.

Book Review: Plum Tea Crazy by Laura Childs—and a Giveaway!

Plum Tea Crazy
A Tea Shop Mystery #19
Laura Childs
Berkley Prime Crime, March 2018
ISBN 978-0-451-48960-9
Hardcover

From the publisher—

While viewing the harbor’s Gaslights and Galleons Parade from the widow’s walk of Timothy Neville’s Charleston mansion, local banker Carson Lanier seemingly tumbles over a narrow railing, then plunges three stories to his death. But a tragic accident becomes something much more sinister when it’s discovered that the victim was first shot with a bolt from a crossbow.

At the request of the mansion owner, Theodosia investigates the tragedy and is soon neck deep in suspects. An almost ex-wife, a coworker, a real estate partner–all had motives for killing the luckless banker, but one resorted to murder to settle accounts.

The prolific Laura Childs is back with another of her cozies I find so appealing, this one in the Tea Shop series. I think this is my favorite of her series…or at least I think so until a Scrapbooking or Cackleberry book comes out and then all bets are off. What I *do* know, with absolute certainty, is that I always welcome a new Laura Childs book.

The Indigo Tea Shop has to be one of the best settings for any reader who loves tea. Can’t you just imagine walking in and being surrounded by all those delightful tea aromas and colors not to mention all the scrumptious food that goes with a proper tea? Unfortunately, that peaceful ambience doesn’t extend to the Gaslights and Galleons Parade when Theodosia and her partner, Drayton, watch a man fall to his death from the very mansion where they’re viewing the festivities. When a small crowd reaches him, it’s Theodosia who discovers that Carson Lanier was shot, apparently with an arrow and, impetuously, Theodosia and Drayton race next door where she thought she saw a figure watching. Chasing the figure, Theodosia runs right into Detective Burt Tidwell.

Naturally, all is in good hands with the detective and life goes on in the tea shop, very briefly, until Timothy Neville, owner of the mansion where the dead man met his demise, comes by with a list of his guests and asks Theodosia to do her own investigating because, as he puts it, “she brings a different perspective to things”. Equally naturally, Theodosia and Drayton can’t resist, despite Tidwell’s somewhat disgusted reaction…but he recognizes that Theodosia has a certain affinity with one of his best detectives, Pete Riley, so Tidwell’s rejection of her involvement has an effect for no more than a few minutes.

Theodosia and Drayton are soon in the thick of things (as well as keeping up with all the neighborhood shopkeepers) and in hot pursuit of a likely suspect. Jud Harker. Will the killer turn out to be Jud or someone else with an entirely different motive?

As always, I was charmed by this entry in the Tea Shop series and had great fun following the clues along with these so-called amateur sleuths plus my mouth is watering over all the recipes. Book #20, Broken Bone China, can’t come fast enough 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, April 2018.

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To enter the drawing for a hardcover
copy of Plum Tea Crazy by Laura Childs,
just leave a comment below. The winning
name will be drawn on Wednesday
evening, April 4th. This drawing is open
to residents of the US and Canada.