End of Summer Reads

Summer is winding down and I am preparing to go back to work. Fit in a few more library and Hoopla reads here.

I always enjoy Belinda Bauer books and The Facts of Life and Death is no exception. A small, tragically underserved, almost cut off community is being terrorized by a killer. As police and citizens mobilize to hunt this killer in their midst it is the smallest amongst them who notices things and puts clues together. This was a really good read, very hard to put down from start to finish. The sense of isolation and almost claustrophobia that the community has comes through on the pages. Tension filled writing with excellent pacing that pushes through to the end without any dragging along the way. Highly recommended.

For Whom the Book Tolls is the first in a cozy mystery series. Jenna Quinn is down on her luck and down to her last dime when she is invited by her uncle to stay with him and work in his bookshop until she finds her feet again. The murder of her Uncle has the police naturally looking at her. Nicely drawn characters, an interesting background in the town of Hokes Folly, NC, and a well plotted mystery make this a great opener to a new series. Looking forward to reading another.

Devil’s Food Cake Murder is book 14 in the Hannah Swenson series. Another visit to Lake Eden, this time filled with deception, jewel heists, and murder. As usual we have the local characters and Hannah’s love interests, Mike and Norman. This is a comforting visit with old friends, if your old friends are sleuths that solve murders!. There is a bit of a surprise announcement at the end for long time readers.

Paranoid by Lisa Jackson is a classic case of a crime today being linked to a crime from the past. 20 years ago Rachel’s brother Luke was killed in what seemed like it might have been an accident or not? Now today, people involved are dying and Rachel is getting text messages that seem to be from beyond the grave. Twists and turns and very critical jabs at life in insular small towns, the downside of everyone knowing everyone and know one ever forgetting. Lots of red herrings and distractions from the main plot. I found some of the characters a bit annoying but still a fun domestic thriller read.

Murder at the Lakeside Library is the first in a new series. Rain Wilmont has returned to her family’s summer cabin to spend some time healing from her husband’s death and infidelity. She discovers that during her absence her mother has expanded the cabin’s library and made it a local attraction and everyone is expecting her to open and run it. A murder on the site, her parents troubled marriage, the identity of the victim, and her own family history all complicate what was supposed to be a peaceful retreat for her. She reconnects with an old summer friend and together they investigate uncovering old secrets and new. An okay read.

Early August Books

Summer is rapidly drawing to a close for me. So here are the early August reads.

Two by Linda Greenlaw, mainly because I read the first one and liked it so much I requested the second one immediately from the library. Slipknot and Fisherman’s Bend are first and second in the Jane Bunker Mystery Series. Jane Bunker is a ex-Miami detective recently relocated to Maine and starting a new career as a Marine Insurance Investigator. She has lots of water and boating experience as the author does in real life. In the course of her duties, she comes across crimes that she then investigates. The mysteries are well plotted and the action flows throughout the books. I would not really characterize them as “cozy” but they are not really gory or graphic either. Highly recommend, especially for anyone who enjoys Maine and/or boats.

Apple Turnover Murder is book 13 in the long running Hannah Swenson series, which I read more for the idea of revisiting the town of Lake Eden, Minnesota and its inhabitants than I do for the mysteries themselves. An unpleasant character from Hannah’s past turns up dead and Hannah investigates as per usual. Norman also has a subplot going on with a cliffhanger ending in this one, so I will have to wait for book 14 to see where that is going.

These Toxic Things, I believe was my Amazon First Reads choice. Mickie Lambert creates virtual scrapbooks from people’s memorabilia and stories of their lives. She is hired to create one for a woman who is having memory issues and wants it done before it is too late. The client dies and Mickie doesn’t want to leave the job incomplete, but uncovers more that what she expected when diving into the artifacts the client left her. There is also a side plot of Mickie’s own personal history that she uncovers during the course of the book. I don’t want to say too much because it would create spoilers. I did enjoy most of this and thought the idea was really good. I just figured out relatively early on what the “secret” was and that did sort of ruin the suspense for me.

End of July Books

The Last Woman in the Forest is everything you want in a suspenseful thriller read. There is a building sense of menace and dread building throughout the story. Marian Engstrom is a strong female lead, not someone charging blindly into danger with no regard to her safety. She is led by reason and strong sense that secrecy helps no one. Nick Shepard is the retired officer that she reaches out to for help in uncovering the truth, whatever it may be. The story is set in various wilderness environments as Marion works with an organization that trains and uses rescue dogs to help track animal populations. There is danger from human and animal predators alike, as well as from the harsh environment. Great read and should appeal to mystery readers, especially ones who like dogs and the outdoors.

The Rocky Road to Ruin is a really good start to a new cozy mystery series. There is a lot to like here . The setting, small town Connecticut, the theme, ice cream, and the plot. Riley returns home for a funeral and stays to assist her friend with the family business. When a murder occurs, Riley is concerned that her friend is implicated. With some misdirection and a cast of quirky characters it takes some unraveling to finally unmask the culprit and solve the case. I will be reading another in this series.

Dead Man’s Grave is the first in a new series and an excellent police procedural. The story begins with an old school gangster, who is still the head of a brutal gang family network, goes missing. The family uncharacteristically involve the police in a search for him. DS Max Cragie and DC Janie Calder discover the gangster’s body and have to report the murder. This sets off a brutal chain of events as the family wants revenge. The police want to close the case. The killer’s family want protection. Great characters and fast paced, well written story. I will want to read more in this series.

The Receptionist is a story about three unlikeable characters, Emily, whose parts are told in first person, and her husband, Doug, and his latest mistress/receptionist Chloe, whose parts are both told in third person. There is tension in the beginning where you definitely get a sense bad things are coming. And the end is a roller coaster ride, in a good way. The middle is just so-so. All the Doug and Chloe tales just dragged a bit for me. I was more interested in Emily and her dog truth be told. Great ending. Overall about a 3 star read.

Apple Cider Slaying is the first in the Cider Shop Mystery Series. Winnie and her Granny are struggling to keep the family Apple Orchard afloat. Finding a neighbor dead on the premises is not helping. Especially when Granny doesn’t really have a great alibi. Once Winnie starts digging into the murder a little bit trying to point the finger away from Granny, she makes herself a target of the killer. Fun start to a new series.

The Diva Paints the Town is the third book in the Domestic Diva Series. Sophie’s neighbor dies and as a final request asked her to prepare a specific meal for his heirs. Antics ensue as clues are left as to his death and perhaps his estate? Sophie finds herself drawn in to what appears to be another murder, until it doesn’t. Lots of questions and misdirection Much the feel of a older manor house mystery here. I enjoyed this but I thought the first and second book in the series were better than this one.

Death By Jack-O-Lantern is the second book in the Abby McCree Mystery Series. Abby is being kept busy by all the demands of various committees and volunteering “opportunities” in the town. Meanwhile Tripp is busy trying to help a homeless veteran, Kevin Montomery, who is dealing with some mental health issues. When an unpleasant local farmer ends up dead, Kevin is on everyone’s radar as the likely suspect. Tripp gets himself in hot water defending Kevin and Abby takes it upon herself to investigate. A respectful treatment of PTSD and mental health of veterans. A solid second book in this good series. A fun Halloween read.

Library reads this week

The Broken Spine is a book I hesitated to read because it gave me a vibe as a magical mystery for some reason, not usually my type. But I’m glad that I did as it was not, and it was a well done mystery. A small town library is being modernized to the point that the books are being eliminated, Trudell Beckett is trying to save as many as she can and in that process stumbles on a body and becomes the chief suspect in a murder. She can hardly admit what she was doing in the library so she is somewhat of a predicament. Plenty of suspects and red herrings to go around. A well written cozy mystery that I really enjoyed.

Going Out In Style is a fashion based cozy. It was just okay not a series I would continue reading.

Innocent Graves is book 8 in the Inspector Banks series. The teen daughter of a wealthy and influential figure is killed and so the pressure is on to solve the case quickly and neatly with minimal upset or embarrassment for the family. There is a drunken vicar’s wife, the vicar himself already under a cloud for accusations of misconduct, an immigrant worker who seemingly harassed the girl in the past, and a cast of other characters. Their sights hone in on a man who is quickly arrested. The fall out of the case is felt throughout the community. Themes of innocence and retribution. Another very good read in the Inspector Banks series.

Mid – July Reading…

The Thursday Murder Club is a book I’ve seen on several blogs and picked up at the library. It was a fun read involving a group of mainly seniors who’ve been put out to pasture. They turn their hand and their considerable expertise from long and varied careers to solving a current crime and an older one as well. There are evil developers to stop, old mobsters to unearth (maybe literally), and justice to be done. Light on the humor, more of a soft boiled writing, with journal entries and several points of view. There are also police procedural elements included. A very good read and deserving of the publicity it is receiving, it needs attention to keep all the characters straight.

The Diva Takes the Cake is the 2nd in the very popular and long lived Domestic Diva series. This is book 2 in a series that is now on its 14th book. I read the 1st book quite a long time ago and will admit it didn’t really grab me. I decided to give the series a second try and I am glad I did. I found this second book a fun read. Sophie is organizing her sister Hannah’s wedding to Craig. Even though Sophie isn’t crazy about Craig she thinks everything might be okay. A murder, unexpected guests, jewel thieves, and more soon prove that this wedding will be beyond challenging. Fun cozy read.

Guaranteed to Bleed is the 2nd in the Country Club Murders series. I am enjoying this series sent in the 1970s. I just love the whole nostalgic feel to it as well as the mystery and the writing. In this installment, Ellison stumbles across a dying boy. She makes it her mission to uncover the girl he professed his love to in his dying words, so she can deliver the message. Themes of mental illness and child abuse in the 1970s when things were dealt with much differently. Good perhaps not quite cozy mystery read.

A Side of Murder is the first in a new cozy series set in New England. A somewhat disgraced chef returns home to a small town to her inherited property and dog. Her first night out at her new restaurant review job, she finds a body floating in the water behind the restaurant. From then on she is immersed in the mystery, involving developers, restaurants, blackmail and murder. A well done cozy mystery. I will read another in this series.

A Fine Fix, Beachfront Bakery: A Killer Cupcake, A Fiesta Burger Murder, and Mousse and Murder were all okay cozy mystery reads for me.

My latest reading

A mixture of library and gently used books here. If I had to pick a favorite of these it would be Death by Committee. This is the first in a new series. Abby McCree has inherited her Aunt’s house and property in Washington and relocated there. She also seems to have inherited her Aunt’s pretty substantial responsibilities to the community in terms of volunteer positions and duties and a dead body buried in the backyard. This was a fun read and even though I figured it out the who and why relatively early on I still enjoyed it and plan on reading another in the series. Great escapist reading.

Sugar and Vice is the second in the A Cookie House Mystery series. I really liked the first one and this was really good as well. A body is found and for a moment it seems like it might be a good thing, yo ho ho and a dead man’s chest and all that, but alas no. Kate and Maxi work together, while also running their business and mingling within the currently pirate crazy community. A twist of an ending is seen here. A fun cozy read.

The Solace of Bay Leaves is set in Seattle and is book 5 in the Spice Shop Mystery Series. This book seems to be tying up some loose ends and I probably wouldn’t recommend reading it if you had not read others in the series. A new crime seems to be tied to previous case because of a single gun. Pepper has connections to both of them. The case has a historical family component that has to be uncovered by digging into the past. Maybe uncovering things people don’t want to look at to deeply. This was a really good series, this was perhaps not the strongest book in the series.

Murder with Oolong Tea is part of the Daisy’s Tea Garden Mystery series. A tea party is held at the local high school and one of the staff dies. She is a particularly controversial staff member, who is loved and hated by various members of the faculty and students past and present. Daisy digs into her background in an effort to determine which one of her multitude of enemies would go so far as to kill her. There is also a side plot involving Daisy’s daughter and a new “troubled teen” best friend. This was an okay cozy mystery for me, but I will admit I’ve not read others in the series so I am not invested in the characters.

Blood Never Dies is a DI Slider mystery, so a police procedural. I picked this up completely on impulse. There was a whole shelf of these at the library. I’d never heard of them. Turns out this is book 15 in the series. The mystery involves a suicide that isn’t. A victim with no form of ID. The investigation takes them from a flat in a rather seedy neighborhood, to a porn studio, to a landed gentry’s home. Slider and his team painstakingly work to identify the victim and reconstruct the crime and motive. This felt a little dated to me and I was surprised when I flipped to the beginning of the book and checked the front cover and it was only published in 2012. I am not sure if I would read another or not.

Dying on the Vine is book 3 in the Gourmet Detective series. This one is set in Provence as the Gourmet detective investigates vineyards and possible fraud. A death due to a local species of wild boar, airborne bee hive attacks and various other shenanigans abound. All long the way there is an abundance of wine and food. This one is a bit of a stretch and not as strong a book as the first in the series.

Ginger Snapped is different Spice Shop Mystery, set in Brandywine Creek, Georgia. This is also Book 5 in a series. Piper owns the Spice Shop and has a slightly romantic interest in Wyatt the sheriff. The town Realtor and beauty is found dead on the Sheriff’s property. He is suspended and seems under suspected of her murder. Piper works to clear his name and solve the case. This was a fun cozy in a good series that continues to be consistently strong.

Eva’s Eye is a Nordic Noir/psychological crime novel by Karin Fossum. I have read other novels by her in the past. This novel focuses on Eva and her part in discovering a body and her rather unusual way of dealing with it. Inspector Sejer and his team eventually find the body and in the course of the investigation they discover Eva. There are links to another crime and Sejer has to pull together threads from multiple sources to understand the cause and effect of all the actions. The point of the novel really seems to be not solving the crime, but the effect of the crimes on those left behind, Eva’s daughter, Eva’s father, and Jan Henry. Very good read, although the titular character, Eva can be very hard to feel sorry for as she seems determined to made the worst possible choices at all times.

Cozies to the End of June

These cozies are from a variety of sources, all actual books. Some from my local used and new book shop, Booktrader of Hamilton, some from Barnes and Noble and a couple from the library. In no particular order:

Murder at the Beacon Bakeshop was excellent! I love lighthouse settings. I enjoy the lighthouse library series by Eva Gates so this one caught my eye. This is a bakeshop set in a repurposed lighthouse. The owner is somewhat repurposed herself, a former wall street mover and shaker, she had her life up ended and has cashed out her fortune and taken her chances on this new venture. When a customer dies on her opening day, it seems like her new life it at risk. Enjoyable read with great characters and good pacing.

Death in a Budapest Butterfly has a great cover and seems like it was a theme that should have been right up my alley. I just didn’t really connect with it for some reason. The family owns a tea shop and caters parties and events. A guest who is not popular with some of the other people at the event dies suddenly and the family finds themselves under scrutiny. Others might like this one.

A Twist in the Tail is the first in the Oyster Cove Guesthouse Mystery Series. The mystery heavily anthropomorphized cats, much of the story is from the cats point of view and the human sleuth or lead is almost an aside. This is not really my type of cozy. I am more drawn to cats as companions or at most the cats from the Cat Who… books.

And Then there were Crumbs is the first in the A Cookie House Mystery series. Kate McGuire, pastry chef, has relocated to Florida after a pretty awful series of events. She takes a job as counter help working under a curmudgeonly bread baker. When an evil developer, is there any other kind in the cozy mystery world, ends up dead, Kate’s new boss finds himself in a jail cell. Kate rallies the local community to keep the bakery going and solve the crime. Excellent first in a new series.

Death in Bloom is the first in the A Flower House Mystery Series. Sierra ends up with a lot on her plate as she leads her first flower arranging class, and has a student keel over dead. At the same time her boss takes off for parts unknown, a stranger arrives to rent to rent the apartment upstairs, and she gains a dog by default. The murder investigation turns nasty as a series of break ins seem designed to up end the flower business or to intimidate her. Sierra and the cast of side characters make for a fun read. Good first in a series.

Killer Chardonnay is the first in a wine themed cozy mystery. Parker Valentine is attempting to open her own winery but her opening is marred by the death of a famous wine critic. When that death is deemed murder and the finger is pointed at her, she feels that she has no choice but to investigate. Shady characters abound in this Colorado setting. It seems like the food and wine industry is cutthroat indeed.

June Reads So Far

It is starting to be summer time, so I am hoping to do more reading. I also have lots of day trips and activities planned though so we will have to see.

I really enjoyed several of these this month, so in no particular order:

A Dark Matter, I am not sure if I’ve read anything by this author before or not. This novel revolves around Jenny a journalist who has traveled home for the funeral of the patriarch of the family, her father. Once she arrives she discovers she has been let go of her job and proceeds to pick up the slack at the family business, which is a funeral parlor with a side line of private investigation. The cases become personal when a friend of her daughter disappears. Jenny gets embroiled in more cases as her mother investigates one that is a bit closer to home. The death of her husband has revealed an anomaly in the business accounts. Mother and daughter both work to get to the bottom of their respective mysteries. A good read and I am sure it is the start of a series.

Safe and Sound, in this novel a rental agent unfortunately discovers that the reason one of their tenants ceased paying rent is that she is dead, and has been for a considerable length of time. The novel jumps back and forth in time until it comes to its rather sad conclusion. After the fact, I read that it was based on a real life case of a similar circumstances. I feel like I should have liked this one more than I did. Themes of social isolation, grief, and mental illness. For me, this was just an okay read.

Caramel Calamity, this is fifth in the Parties at the Pier mystery series. I have to admit I didn’t read the first four. I downloaded this to my kindle as I was looking for a cozy and this was on Kindle Unlimited. The protagonist, Penelope, plans events, and stumbles upon dead bodies. The latest event is a graduation and there is to be a local author as the speaker. The murder involves old secrets that someone wants to keep hidden and is willing to kill to do that. This was an okay cozy mystery.

Broadland, is another new to me author. The series is set in Norfolk and is the first in a new series headed by DI Tanner. He has his own personal issues, which precipitated the move from London to Norfolk and he has not been entirely accepted by his new team. He is assigned to missing persons and soon finds his case turning into murder. One body leads to another and the term serial killer starts being used. The pressure is on for Tanner to produce results. This was a good police procedural. I am not sure how I feel about his sidekick character, but she will probably grow on me as the series continues. Good read.

Closely Harbored Secrets is a continuation of Bree Baker’s Seaside Cafe Mystery series. Everly stumbles upon yet another body. This time the victim, Dixie, has a history of issues with the Swan women. On top of this Everly and Grady’s “never quite there yet” romance takes quite a blow. Everly investigates and finds herself in danger from a mysterious figure. An okay outing in an otherwise good series.

Death Bee Comes Her is first in a new cozy series. Wren Johnson, the proprietor of a bee themed shop stumbles upon a body on the beach. A witness comes forward and drops Wren into hot water with the local police. Wren investigates as it seems like her freedom is at risk. I really enjoyed this introduction to a new series.

Hunted on the Fens by Joy Ellis is the third book in the Nikki Galena series. Nikki is still recovering from a personal tragedy. Her working relationship with Joe Easter is developing into a great friendship. Nikki and her team find themselves under attack and the main suspect is a villain who slipped through their fingers in a previous case. The attack turns personal as the killer targets Joe’s daughter. Really good thriller.

Their Lost Daughters is also by Joy Ellis and is set in the same area as the Nikki Galena series but does not overlap, at least not yet. The case here involves girls going missing over a period of years. There are lots of red herrings and cases of misdirection. The link between the crimes is a sad one for everyone involved. Themes of child abuse, effects of trauma, sibling love, and mental illness. This was a good psychological thriller/police procedural.

Some books from the Library

Final Account is book 7 in the Inspector Banks series. This is a series I really enjoy and I have not read in a while so it was a pleasure to pick it up again. This book was renamed in the US, so UK readers will know it as Dry Bones that Dream.

In this installment, Banks is called to the scene of an almost headless victim of a shotgun blast. His traumatized daughter has to give her accounting of events and Banks becomes emotionally involved as he resolves to see justice done for the daughter’s sake. As the investigation broadens more characters are involved and Banks realizes that not everything about the crime, the victim, and some of the others he meets along the way are as it seems. Great installment in a series that I regularly enjoy.

This is the second book in the Inspector Vaara series.

Inspector Vaara is investigating a crime in which a woman was brutally tortured to death. At the same time he has been called to look into whether there is any truth to a local hero being branded a war criminal. Deception abounds and Vaara cannot seem to untangle his personal feelings and ideas of right and wrong from the investigations. Add into this all a strong dose of political pressure, chronic pain, visiting obnoxious relatives and it is a pressure cooker of a situation. This is a good outing in the series, but not as good as good as the first book, which I really liked. There is also somewhat of a cliffhanger at the end of the book regarding Vaara’s personal life.

This Dog for Hire appeared to be a cozy mystery, however I would not really classify as that. Yes, there is non-police sleuth and yes, we have an animal sidekick. But the crime and underlying mood of the book feels darker and more tense. The sleuth, Rachel Alexander, is hired to work on the case of murdered artist, whose valuable dog disappeared is missing. There are many theories of the crime batted around and Rachel does quite a bit of chasing down leads. The dog is recovered early on, the gist is not animal abuse by any means. The resolution and events that led to the crime are shocking when revealed. Great first in a series.

The Secret Place is the second book in two months I’ve read by Tana French. I love her writing and her books, generally. This book was an exception. I can appreciate the attention to detail and the research that went into delving into the teenage culture and vernacular, but there was only so much of it I can take. I was doing fine up until about a third of the way through and then I just had enough. The book is over 450 pages long and while the crime was interesting and the adult characters are superb, it is very teen centric. The crime and practically everyone involved are teens and the locations center on private boarding schools and the local shopping center/hangout.

As a Tana French fan, I am glad that I read it as her characters often roll over into other books, but it definitely was not a favorite.

Four More Mysteries…

These are my latest four library reads. I really love Deborah Crombie’s Duncan Kincaid and Gemma James series and A Bitter Feast was an excellent addition to the series. Duncan, Gemma and their children are invited to a co-workers family estate for a community event. Duncan is involved in a car accident and the occupants of the other car both die. Duncan and Gemma become involved as it is soon apparent that this was no ordinary car accident. The usual supporting characters of Doug and Melody are also seen here and have a strong side plot involving Melody’s hidden relationship with a musician. The plot has some fun twists and turns as another murder occurs while the investigation is in full swing. Great installment taking the detectives out of their usual, more urban environment.

Snow Angels is the first in a new series by James Thompson. The Inspector Vaara is a wounded officer, married to an American ex ski champion, living and policing in a ski resort town. The darkness and bleakness is an ever present character in this novel as Finland is seen through Vaara’s American wife’s eyes and through Vaara’s explanations to her. Vaara is drawn into a brutal murder investigation of a celebrity, who is a young female Somali immigrant. The murder has brutal sexual and racist components and Vaara is in a race to solve the case before a media frenzy takes hold. This was a completely immersive experience with many tragic elements to the crime and the people attached to it. Very good start to a new series. Themes of racism, female genital mutilation, brutal violence.

Slough House is the 7th book in the Slough House series. In this outing, Ex- Slough house agents are being picked off in retaliation to an action in Russia. Lamb, River and the rest of the current staff must move quickly to save themselves. There is a surprise reappearance of a familiar face along with other recurring characters like Tavener and Molly. Lamb and his operatives find themselves up against everyone, the Russians, Tavener and multi-millionaire corrupt businessmen. Given that Slough House operatives are the rejects of the service no one expects much of them. Excellent book, however I would strongly suggest reading the series in order as the relationships develop over time and the characters all have histories.

Tana French’s Broken Harbor is a dark investigation into the murders of an entire family. This is a devastatingly sad mystery. From the back story of Mick “Scorcher” Kennedy the investigating officer, to the love story of the victims, to the horrible effects of the recession on an entire generation, sadness abounds. I did suspect the outcome relatively early on, however I believe that was by design. There are several red herrings that seem to be there to build tension and accent just how tragic the entire story actually is. Excellent psychological mystery. Themes of mental illness.