Book Review: A Lady’s Guide to Etiquette and Murder by Dianne Freeman @Difreeman001 @KensingtonBooks

A Lady’s Guide to Etiquette and Murder
A Countess of Harleigh Mystery, #1
Dianne Freeman
Kensington Books, June 2018
ISBN 978-1-4967-1687-3
Hardcover

Frances Wynn may have been born American, but as the widowed Countess of Harleigh, she is highly placed in English society. Her marriage was not for love. Her mother wanted a title for her daughter, and the impoverished Wynns wanted American money to keep the estate afloat. Still, when her husband dies in another woman’s bed–right under Frances’ nose, so to speak–a situation is set in motion. To the heir’s and his wife’s dismay, as soon as her mourning year is over, Frances buys a house in town and vows no more money will be paid into the estate’s upkeep.

But then a letter is sent to the police which accuses Frances of being complicit in her husband’s murder. Murder? And then, in the upper-crust London homes where Frances visits, expensive items begin disappearing. Lily, Frances’ younger sister arrives from America to become an English debutante, and quickly becomes involved with several young men. Could one of them be the thief?

Inspector Delaney of the Metropolitan Police begins questioning Frances’ innocence, and her neighbor, with whom she has a history, becomes her defender. Together, the three attempt to unravel the mysterious goings on. But then a man is murdered in Frances’ back garden and Lily may have been kidnapped.

Still the question looms: Was Countess Harleigh’s husband murdered?

Freeman has penned a Victorian mystery with excellent, well-developed characters, and set them into an amusing plot. This story comes to a satisfactory conclusion, leaving the characters to continue on to yet another intriguing tale.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, January 2020.
http://www.ckcrigger.com
Author of The Woman Who Built A Bridge (Spur Award Winner), Yester’s Ride,
Hometown Burning and Five Days, Five Dead: A China Bohannon Novel

Book Review: Coconut Layer Cake Murder by Joanne Fluke @JoanneFluke @KensingtonBooks

Coconut Layer Cake Murder
A Hannah Swensen Mystery #25
Joanne Fluke
Kensington Books, March 2020
ISBN 978-1-4967-1889-1
Hardcover

The population of Eden Lake, Minnesota, is probably the most cookie-eating population in the country. It’s because baker and amateur sleuth Hannah Swensen, owner of The Cookie Jar, gives everyone she comes in contact with cookies.  Butterscotch and Pretzel Cookies, Confetti Blizzard Whippersnapper cookies, Strawberry and Vanilla Pinwheel Cookies—you name it. In the latest book of this long running series, Hannah and her mother travel to California to help a friend pack for a cross country move and to fit in a little sightseeing.

A panicked phone call from her younger sister brings Hannah back to Minnesota. Sister Michelle’s boyfriend, Lonnie, a deputy, is the top suspect in the murder of a friend, Darcy. Darcy had been at a bar and had been drinking too much, and Lonnie drove her home. When he was in her house, making sure she got in safely, he passed out and when he awoke next morning, she was dead. Hannah investigates, with plates of Snowflake and Ice Cookies in hand, interviewing witnesses and suspects.

Readers who like recipes with their mysteries, and who haven’t discovered the delights of Eden Lake, will be pleased to discover this series. With twenty-five books now in the series, there are a lot of mysteries to be solved, and many recipes to be tried. Recipes have detailed instructions, so even the most inexperienced cook will not be intimidated.

Reviewed by Susan Belsky, March 2020.

Book Review: Jealousy Filled Donuts by Ginger Bolton—and a Giveaway!

Jealousy Filled Donuts
Ginger Bolton
Kensington Books, September 2019
ISBN 978-1-4967-1191-5
Trade Paperback

It’s the Fourth of July and Emily Westhill is loving it. Not only does she get to drive her 1950 Ford “donut car” in the parade, with the King and Queen as passengers, her Deputy Donut Café is providing the donuts for the picnic later in the day. How fantastic can life get for a small-town girl making good?  Of course, it can only go downhill, at least in the immediate future. The Queen, a lovely diva named Taylor, decides that the “donut car” doesn’t meet her high standards and pitches a major fit (after the minor fit about how her hair was done) in front of God and everyone until she gets to ride in an acceptable car. Her best friend has some words to say about Taylor, although not where Taylor can hear her. Then Taylor is killed during the fireworks after the picnic. Emily’s donuts were stacked on a rocket-like firework in order to disguise it, and the rocket was deadly at close range. The pictures provided by a convenient photographer place Emily squarely in the frame, at least for a little while. This kind of in-your-face manipulation ups the ante and Emily becomes determined to find out who killed Taylor as well as why she was picked as the scapegoat.

Emily lives in a small town, with all the ramifications of small town life front and center. She’s a small business owner, sharing Deputy Donut Café with her deceased husband’s father, a former police chief. It’s great to have built-in clientele, and also connections that perhaps another amateur sleuth might not possess. It also means she has demands on her time, demands that can’t be ignored too often or for too long. Not to mention she does have a personal life, albeit one that could use a little help. Anyone who runs a business knows how much of a life it can overtake. Emily does her best within these constraints.

Bolton’s third entry in the Deputy Donut series is pretty good, for being as open to the whole “cops and donuts” humor. She doesn’t succumb to the obvious, although there is humor in the book. This is definitely a character-driven story, and Bolton knows how to drive this wagon. There are plenty of by-ways and side roads, although a perspicacious reader should have no trouble finding her way to the correct solution. The small-town insider solution is shared early enough for astute folks to catch on. And there is knitting involved – not enough to warrant a pattern at the end, to go with the recipes, and still a little bit of needlework is usually a good thing.

Reviewed by P.J. Coldren, June 2019.
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Book Review: A Lady’s Guide to Gossip and Murder by Dianne Freeman

A Lady’s Guide to Gossip and Murder
A Countess of Harleigh Mystery #2
Dianne Freeman
Kensington Books, July 2019
ISBN 978-1-4967-1690-3
Hardcover

Lady Frances Wynn, Countess of Harleigh, has been doing a little matchmaking. Her sister Lily is almost engaged to Leo Kendrick, a match Lade Frances approves of, although she would like them to wait just a bit longer to announce their engagement. Her cousin Charles Evingdon has been discreetly seeing Mary Archer, a local widow with society connections although apparently little to no money. Lady Frances is encouraging the match; Charles is that geeky, clumsy cousin with minimal social skills who could do much worse than the widow Archer. This match, however, has come to naught; Charles informs Lady Frances that he and Mary Archer will not suit and won’t say why. This isn’t really a problem until Inspector Delaney arrives to ask Lady Frances why Mary Archer is in possession of information she shouldn’t have. He, for obvious reasons, decided that Charles is a suspect in Mary Archer’s murder. So Lady Frances needs to clear Charles (he is her cousin, after all), as well as niggle out how Mary Archer came to have such intimate details about the Harleigh family finances.

Lady Frances and her next-door-neighbor George Hazelton have had interactions, social and private, in the past. They are once again working on the same case. Mary Archer has been supplementing what little income she had by writing a local gossip column, Miss Information. George’s political connections are such that Inspector Delaney has been required to pass all the gossip column research to George for perusal and discreet intervention. George, having other problems on his plate, delegates that task to Lady Frances and, in the interest of speed, her household. All sworn to secrecy, of course.

Freeman seems to have done her research. London, during the summer, is fairly somnolent in terms of high society and the events that revolve around aristocrats. This means Lady Frances has fewer people on her suspects list, and more time to deal with all the questions that arise during her investigations. Freeman has built a good supporting cast for Lady Frances, and the new introductions bode well for future entries in the series. George Hazelton features prominently, as one might imagine, and his mixed messages do their best to keep Lady Frances in a tizzy. In the meantime, Charles finds his own match, and there is plenty of opportunity for another Countess of Harleigh mystery in the future.

Reviewed by P.J. Coldren, June 2019.

Book Review: Premeditated Peppermint by Amanda Flower

Premeditated Peppermint
An Amish Candy Shop Mystery #3
Amanda Flower
Kensington Books, October 2018
ISBN: 978-1-4967-0643-0
Mass Market Paperback

New York chocolatier Bailey King has moved to Amish country to help her Amish grandmother with her sweet shop. It’s Christmas and the shop is terrifically busy, as this is the most profitable part of year. Tourists are lining up to visit the picturesque village. This rather frenetic time is rudely interrupted when an old flame of Bailey’s shows up. He’s supported by a film crew bent on taking over the candy shop to create a Christmas special TV show. Everything Amish is all the rage right now. Trouble is, Bailey’s and Eric Sharp’s break-up was not especially amicable, and she is not at all pleased to see him. And the fact Bailey’s new beau, Deputy Aiden Brody, might take offense is also a consideration. What a set-up, right?

Then the show’s producer is murdered in the town center and a plethora of suspects is rounded up. Chief among them is Eric Sharp. Everything points to him but, much as she now dislikes him, Bailey doesn’t think he did it, and sets out to discover the true murderer.

The story is filled with quirky characters. My personal favorite is Jethro. Uh, Jethro the polka-dotted pig. There are plenty of suspects to point a finger at, as well as plenty of regular folks. The plot is convoluted enough to hold your interest, and of course, the writing is excellent. For someone who doesn’t know a lot about the Amish and their customs, this is a way to provide some education in the best possible way–with a story.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, October 2018.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder, Four Furlongs and Hometown Homicide.

Book Review: The Secret, Book & Scone Society by Ellery Adams

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The Secret, Book & Scone Society
The Secret, Book & Scone Society, Book 1
Ellery Adams
Kensington Books, November 2017
ISBN 978-1-4967-1237-0
Hardcover
From the publisher—

Miracle Springs, North Carolina, is a place of healing. Strangers flock here hoping the natural hot springs, five-star cuisine, and renowned spa can cure their ills. If none of that works, they often find their way to Miracle Books, where, over a fresh-baked “comfort” scone from the Gingerbread House bakery, they exchange their stories with owner Nora Pennington in return for a carefully chosen book. That’s Nora’s special talent—prescribing the perfect novel to ease a person’s deepest pain and lighten their heaviest burden.

When a visiting businessman reaches out to Nora for guidance, she knows exactly which novels will help. But before he can keep their appointment at Miracle Books, he’s found dead on the train tracks.

Stunned, Nora forms the Secret, Book, and Scone Society, a group of damaged souls yearning to gain trust and earn redemption by helping others. To join the society, members must divulge their darkest secret—the terrible truth that brought each of them to Miracle Springs in the first place.

Determined to uncover the truth behind the businessman’s demise, the women meet in Nora’s cramped and cozy bookstore to share stories and trade support. And as they untangle a web of corruption, they also discover their own courage, purpose, and a sisterhood that will carry them through every challenge—proving it’s never too late to turn the page and start over . . .

Ellery Adams has to work really hard to write a book I don’t like and that’s not me blowing smoke. I don’t think all of her work is 100% on point but I do find something to like about every single book. Disclaimer: I’ve known the author for years from back when I had my bookstore and she lived in Richmond and, although I haven’t seen or talked to her in far too long, I think of her fondly. Having said that, I truly think Ellery Adams is one of the best cozy writers around.

One of the best things this author does is come up with settings and/or concepts that are a little out of the norm and she’s done it again with this series debut. I quite simply adore a mystery set in or around a bookstore  (how could I not, considering my background?) but to put that store in a spa town is just terrific. Better yet, the club Nora puts together is near genius, not only to solve murders and the like but to bond these women together in such a unique fashion. Bibliotherapy at its best.

Nora’s idea is that there are few problems that can’t be remedied by reading the right book—a premise I can truly buy into—and the women she has recruited for the club all need that connection to other people with a common love for books. When you get right down to it, don’t all face-to-face book clubs thrive on reading but, perhaps more importantly, on those personal relationships? And then the icing on the cake here is the chance to be sleuths 😉

Nora, Hester, June and even Estella are unique individuals, all smart women who’ve been damaged in some way but they’re open to healing and they grow to like each other in a perfect evocation of the bonds that women form when they’re very, very lucky. Along the way, they put their heads together to figure out why this man, a visitor in town, has been murdered and why the local law is kind of ignoring it. Before everything comes to a head, these women unearth a corruption they had no idea existed.

Added to the fun of sleuthing, we’re treated, literally, to scrumptious food and beverage, enough so I was really hungry while I was reading! I’m pumped by this series debut and will definitely follow it; in the meantime, it goes on my list of favorite books read in 2017.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, November 2017.

An Excerpt from
The Secret, Book & Scone Society

Still scanning the park square, Nora wondered where the trolley passengers had gone. The lodge’s green trolley was parked in its usual place, but no lodge guests strolled the sidewalks or meandered from the row of quaint shops on Bath Street to the Pink Lady Grill or the Gingerbread House.

Just then, a flash of red caught Nora’s eye and she groaned inwardly as a tall, shapely woman passed in front of the bookshop window. The woman yanked the door open, ignoring the riotous clanging of the sleigh bells, and settled into the closest chair like a queen awaiting the adulation of her subjects. Her pouty lips curved into a cat-with-the-cream grin. “Consider your next bibliotherapy session canceled.”

“Hello to you too, Estella.” Nora picked up the stray paperbacks a customer had left on the table next to Estella’s chair. “I assume you’re referring to the man I met on the park bench. Why isn’t he coming? Did you scare him off?”

“Me?” Estella pretended to be affronted, but Nora wasn’t falling for the act. “I didn’t even get a chance to meet him. I was up at the lodge wasting my time on a man I thought had some potential, but he’s already making payments to an ex-wife and needs to send three kids to college. There’d be nothing left for me.” She waved a manicured hand in dismissal.

Nora was itching to reshelve the books and check on the coffee. Though she didn’t dislike Estella, she was rarely at ease in her company.

Recalling the strange sensation she’d experienced as the second train whistle blew, Nora felt an inexplicable prickle of dread. She jerked a thumb toward the window. “Where is everyone?”

Estella’s grin returned. “At the train station. They’ve been drawn there like flies to sugar. The sheriff rolled in a few seconds ago, and since he and I have never gotten along, I made myself scarce.”

Nora, who made it a point not to look people directly in the eye, forgot her rule and gave Estella an impatient stare. “What happened? Just spit it out.”

Crossing her arms in disappointment, Estella murmured something about no one being any fun, but eventually complied with Nora’s request. “When your man on the bench placed an order for one of Hester’s comfort scones, he asked her to box it because he was heading over here to see you. He left the bakery, box in hand, but he never made it to Miracle Books.” Estella leaned back in the chair and smoothed the skirt of her white sundress. “I’m sure he’d rather be sitting in this comfy chair than where he is now.”

Nora knew she wasn’t going to like the answer to her question, but it had to be asked. “Which is?”

“On the tracks,” Estella declared breathlessly. “Someone pushed him in front of the three o’clock train.”

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Book Review: If the Shoe Kills by Lynn Cahoon

if-the-shoe-killsIf the Shoe Kills
A Tourist Trap Mystery #3
Lynn Cahoon
Kensington Books, November 2014
ISBN 978-1-60183-306-8
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

The tourist town of South Cove, California, is a lovely place to spend the holidays. But this year, shop owner Jill Gardner discovers there’s no place like home for homicide. . .

As owner of Coffee, Books, and More, Jill Gardner looks forward to the hustle and bustle of holiday shoppers. But when the mayor ropes her into being liasion for a new work program, ’tis the season to be wary. Local businesses are afraid the interns will be delinquents, punks, or worse. For Jill, nothing’s worse than Ted Hendricks–the jerk who runs the program. After a few run-ins, Jill’s ready to kill the guy. That, however, turns out to be unnecessary when she finds Ted in his car–dead as a doornail. Officer Greg assumes it’s a suicide. Jill thinks it’s murder. And if the holidays weren’t stressful enough, a spoiled blonde wants to sue the city for breaking her heel. Jill has to act fast to solve this mess–before the other shoe drops. . .

I’m ashamed to admit that I read this l-o-n-g ago and never got around to writing a review, not because I hated it or had a beef with the author but because, well, I just sort of kept pushing it down the to-review list until it kind of became an embarrassment. I decided to woman up and get it done, finally, and I discovered an interesting thing—I remember it, remember it quite well. Now, that may be SOP for many of you but, except for a handful of standouts that are implanted in my brain, I usually need some sort of prompt to remind me, whether it be the description on the book jacket or a mention of something in someone else’s review. None of that was needed this time.

What, exactly, does that mean? Well, it means I think this is a really enjoyable cozy, one with memorable characters—book and coffee shop owner Jill and her “boy toy”, Detective Greg King, the Martha Stewart-ish Aunt Jackie and the overbearing Mayor Baylor along with many others—and a town I wouldn’t mind living in. The charitable project that riles everyone up is a worthy one that could work in real life and the potential motivations for the inevitable murder actually make sense. Jill herself has some validity in sleuthing and, thank heavens, she doesn’t fall into the TSTL trap.

As for the mystery itself, I have to say this is pretty darned good, causing me to go in one direction and another until I figured it out but that wasn’t until near the end so, all in all, this is a cozy mystery I can happily recommend to anyone looking for a well-done puzzle. Since it took me so long to get around to reviewing this, there are more books out in the series; as it happens, I have #1 in the series so I think I’ll start from the beginning 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, January 2017.