Friday, January 24, 2020

Book Review - The Last Passenger




The Last Passenger (Charles Lenox Mysteries 0.3)
Author:  Charles Finch
Publisher:  St. Martin’s Press
Publication Date:  February 18, 2020

Late one night, in early October 1855, the last passenger on the 449 to Paddington would not be leaving on his own accord.  After everyone had left, the conductor found this man in the third class carriage stabbed to death.  Perhaps more mysterious than his death, was the condition in which they found him.  His pockets were empty, the labels were cut out of every piece of his clothing, and his socks, boots, hat, and watch are all missing.  It appeared that someone had gone to a great deal of trouble to try to hide the identity of the man.  Lenox feels deeply compelled to not only find the murderer, but also to discover who the man was, and why he was killed.

In addition to trying to solve a perplexing case, Lenox must also juggle the devoirs of his personal life.

Charles Finch has done it again!  He has written another sensational book in the Charles Lenox mystery series.  This book is the third and last prequel to the series.  As always, the writing was magnificent.  The plot was intriguing, unique and full of surprises.  Just when you think the case is about wrapped up, the story takes a clever twist.

Favorite characters such as Graham and Lady Jane, and Lady Jane’s husband Deere, feature prominently in this story.  One of Charles’s closest friends in later books, Dr. Thomas McConnell makes a brief appearance in this prequel.  It’s been really enjoyable learning about Charles’s background and what makes him the detective he is in later books.  It’s been equally as enjoyable learning about the background of his friends as well.  In this installment, Lady Jane and Charles’s mother are trying to marry him off.  Both women would like to see him fall in love and settle down before he becomes lonely.  Charles does not believe that he is lonely, but as the story progresses, he begins to wonder if something (someone?) is missing from his life.

Fans of historical mysteries will adore The Last Passenger.  One of the themes in this book is slavery.  We get a good peek at the differences in the state of slavery in the US and England.  We also see the similarities and differences in status and opinions of the white population in both the US and England of the African race.  Then of course another prominent issue at this time was class disparities in England.  Charles really struggles with this problem, and the role he should play.

I have loved every Charles Lenox book I have read, and this one is no exception.  It was a hard book to put down.  Everything works well in this book, and it ties in nicely to the original series.  

Thanks to Net Galley and St. Martin’s Press for an ARC of this book.   #NetGalley   #TheLastPassenger  

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Book Review - Hems and Homicide




Hems & Homicide (Apron Shop #1)
Author:  Elizabeth Penney
Publisher:  St. Martin’s Press
Publication Date:  December 31, 2019
4 Stars

Iris Buckley and her Grammie (Anne) have decided to open a store called Ruffles and Bows in Blueberry Cove, Maine.  The store is set to sell all sorts of household linens including new and vintage items.  Iris and Grammie go to the store to meet a contractor about work that needs to be done before the store can open.  But while stumbling along in the basement after the lights go out, Iris bumps into a skeleton.  Grammie comes down and immediately recognizes the scarf on the skull’s head as belonging to Star Moonshine, a friend of hers from the seventies.  Iris and Grammie wonder how successful the investigation will go, given the case is over 50 years old and the fact that nobody knows Star’s real name, and they wonder if they can do anything to help.  Not long afterwards, another body is found in the store.  This time it is a man named Elliot who was the landlord of the building.  Grammie had a long standing conflict with Elliot over land she owned, and he wanted.  She seems to have the greatest motive for killing him and becomes the prime suspect.  Can Iris help clear her grandmother’s name before she is charged?  And can she do it in time to make sure their store opens by Memorial Day, the ever important beginning of tourist season.

I’m going to start with a small critique I have with the story.  I thought it was rather strange that the ladies were almost run off the road and received threatening messages even before the investigation really gets under way.  This is somewhat explained in the conclusion, but it seemed to me that someone was looking for trouble, before trouble was to be had.

Other than that, I thought the author laid out an amazing story.  The plot is complex and exciting.  With the deaths forty years apart the author gives a great peek at what life was like in this small town in both the 70s and today.  As a reader we have to follow all the exciting climbs and sudden drops to figure who the culprit or culprits are and why the crimes were committed.

The characters also really help to make this a strong story.  Iris and her Grammie are very relatable and likable.  Iris’s girlfriends are also great secondary characters.  They are each unique and bring something special into her life.  Iris and her one friend in particular, Madison, do a good job of looking into the case without being a nuisance to the police.  We are also introduced to other town characters which help us gain an understanding of how this small town fits together, even as far back as to the 70s.

This story was fun and well sewn together, and it makes a great addition to the cozy mystery genre.

Thanks to Net Galley and St. Martin’s Press for an ARC of this book.
#NetGalley   #HemsAndHomicide


Sunday, January 19, 2020

Book Review - Desolate Shores




Desolate Shores (Aspen Adams #1)
Author:  Daryl Wood Gerber
Publisher:  Beyond the Page
Publication Date:  August 13, 2019
4 Stars

Aspen Adams was out for an early morning run when she notices a body on the beach.  She goes down to see what she can do to help.  When she gets to the body she is shocked to see that it is her friend Vikki Carmichael.  She tries to revive Vikki but is unsuccessful. Right around the same time, Karen Brandon, a member of the sheriff’s office, and Aspen’s friend, hears the screams of someone down on the beach and comes to investigate.  She too tries to resuscitate Vikki, but to no avail.  Aspen’s beautiful, funny friend was dead. Karen calls into the station for help. Detective Sergeant Nick Shaper, the lead on the case, shows up to the crime scene.  Shaper seems to be asking the right questions, but Aspen is so hesitant to trust him.  Her parents had been brutally murdered, and the police had never solved the case.   She distrusts the competency of law enforcement as a whole.  Aspen decides she must get involved in the case in order to ensure that it is solved.

I’ve read and enjoyed Daryl Wood Gerber’s Cookbook Nook Series.  When I heard she had a new suspense mystery out, I was super excited to read it.  I am really glad that I did.  First of all, the author did a top notch job of developing multidimensional characters.  Aspen herself has a very heartbreaking background.  Not only were her parents tragically murdered, she used to be a teen therapist until one of her clients committed suicide.  The trauma of the two events was too overwhelming for her.  She decides to start over, and she turns to her aunt Max’s PI firm for a job.  She uses her new skills, along with her aunt’s resources, to work on solving Vikki’s murder.  The problem is that there was much more to Vikki and her life than Aspen ever knew or could have imagined.  Aspen’s life becomes even more complicated when her drug addict sister dumps off her daughter for Aspen to take care of.  Aspen is more than happy to take care of her niece, but now she must carefully balance her new responsibility along with Vikki’s murder investigation.  This becomes even trickier as the book progresses.  Detective Nick Shaper has a complicated and painful background as well.  Aspen & Nick’s relationship becomes very entangled to say the least.

The mystery itself is absorbing, fast-paced, and exciting.  The plot has so many different pieces that all come together seamlessly to form a breathtaking and thrilling story.  While the mystery is expertly wrapped up, the author does leave some open story lines that I can’t wait to read more about in the next book.

Fans of Gerber won’t be disappointed with this book.


Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Book Review - A Deadly Grind




A Deadly Grind (Vintage Kitchen Mystery #1)
Author:  Victoria Hamilton
Publisher:  Berkley
Publication Date:  May 1, 2012
3 Stars

Jaymie Leighton is thrilled that a Hoosier brand kitchen cabinet is up for auction at a local estate sale.  Even though kitchen space is at a premium in her home,  Jaymie feels that this is a must have piece for her vintage kitchen collection.  Her older sister, who also lives with her part time, is not happy that Jamie wants to bring more “junk” into what she deems is an already overcrowded home.  Going against her sister’s wish, Jaymie enters the bidding for the Hoosier cabinet.  During the bidding process, an argument breaks out, and some people become distracted by it.  Jaymie keeps her head in the game though and manages to land the winning bid.  She also snags some vintage cookbooks and some old sewing goods.  

Once home, Jaymie is perplexed how she will get the cabinet into her house.  Luckily at that moment, Brett, a guest of the next door B&B, overhears her problem and offers to help move it into the house.  He suggests just moving it into the summer porch and Jaymie agrees that that is a great spot for it until she can get it all cleaned up.  

During the night, something happens on that porch.  When Jaymie and her sister make it downstairs, they find a dead man in the summer porch.  The police are summoned, and they have a lot of questions for Jaymie and her sister, but they have very few answers.  They don’t know who the man was, why he was in their house, or how he ended up dead.  Jaymie thinks the answer must lie somewhere in her auction purchases, but she is not able to pinpoint anything.  Will she be able to figure things out before it is too late?  Or will tragedy strike again?

I loved the set up of the murder victim and the mystery in this story.  I thought it was unique and well played out.  We have an out of towner who seemingly breaks into the home of a local family.  There do not appear to be any clues as to who he is, why he broke into the house, who killed him, and there doesn’t appear to be anything taken.  I enjoyed all the twists and turns the story took and how the story came together and successfully wrapped up.

I also enjoyed the unique setting of this book.  It takes place in Queensville, Michigan, and it is right next door to Johnsonville, Ontario.  The two towns share a special bond and celebrate shared holidays from both countries.  

One problem I had with this story is Jaymie’s naivety.  For example Brett asks a lot of questions that would have caused me to be a little leery of him.  Now maybe they just seemed suspicious to me because I knew I was reading a mystery and something nefarious was bound to happen.  However, I think if a stranger showed up at  just the right time and asked the questions he did, I would have warning bells going off.  Jaymie’s behaviors in general, seem like those of a much younger person rather than that of the thirty-two year old she is.

I think this series has a lot of great potential.  I think Jaymie’s character just needs a little ironing out.  The other pieces of the pie are already there and are well developed.  There are quite a few books in this series already written, and I’m looking forward to working my way through them.

Friday, January 10, 2020

Book Review - The Disappearance of Alistair Ainsworth




The Disappearance of Alistair Ainsworth (The Daughter of Sherlock Holmes Mysteries #3)
Author:  Leonard Goldberg
Publisher:  St. Martin’s Press
Publication Date:  June 11, 2019
4 Stars

The year was 1915, and England was embroiled in World War I.  It was a frightful rainy evening, and the Watsons were at home for they evening.  They were sitting around analyzing a previous case of Sherlock Holmes’s when they were interrupted by an old friend of the elder Dr. Watson, a Dr. Verner.  Dr. Verner had quite the disturbing story to share with the group.  Dr. Verner was visited by a representative of a seemingly distinguished person.  The man arrived to inform Dr. Verner that a man who was to remain unnamed was suffering from some kind of abdominal trouble.  He asked Dr. Verner to go with him and examine the patient.  After a peculiar, roundabout trip, they reached the house of the patient.  Dr. Verner came to realize that this man was not sick, but was in need of help, and was most likely being held against his will.  Although Dr. Verner had little to offer in the way of proof or clues to the man’s whereabouts, the Watsons’ agreed to look into the matter.  

By the next morning, Joanna had deduced that the man must be a British citizen and was very much being held against his will by German operatives.  Joanna was also sure that Dr. Verner’s life was in danger, and they rush to his practice to warn him.  Unfortunately, when they arrived he was already dead.  The threesome headed home and scoured the paper for news that may help them with this case.  A notice in the paper about a missing person caught their eye.  They surmised that this missing person, Alistair Ainsworth, was most likely the same man that was being held captive.  Their theory was reinforced when they discovered that Ainsworth was one of England’s top cryptologist.  The elder and younger doctor Watsons and Joanna become entangled in an extremely urgent case.  They must find Alistair Ainsworth before the Germans are able to break him, and extract some of England’s biggest war secrets.

The Disappearance of Alistair Ainsworth is the third book in the Daughter of Sherlock Holmes mystery series.  This book is an excellent addition to the collection.  Joanna’s deductive skills are right up there with her father’s, Sherlock Homes, but with a slightly softer touch.  She has an uncanny ability to see clues that the other characters and the readers tend to overlook.  Once she explains her reasoning, however, her assertions seem more than credible.  Her impeccable reasoning skills are the only thing standing in the way of the German spies fulfilling their mission.  The Germans are not without their own advantage though.  It seems they have a spy placed very high within the English intelligence community which keeps them one step ahead of their pursuers.

Joanna, and her husband, Dr. Holmes, along with the elder Dr. Holmes are joined by other familiar characters to help them solve the case.  Toby Two is back and his sniffer is as good as ever.  Also back, and in charge of the murder investigation, is the younger Inspector Lestrade.

This book is a truly fun and exciting mystery.  In line with the urgency of this case, the plot moves at a very fast pace.  I can highly recommend this book to fans of Sherlock Holmes and historical mysteries.  While this book could be read as a stand alone story, I recommend starting with the first book.  Not only will you find yourself reading a great mystery, you will get to see the development of the characters.  I’m very excited to see that there will be a fourth book in this series that is due out in June 2020.

Thanks to Net Galley  and St. Martin’s Press for an ARC of this book.  #NetGalley    #TheDisappearanceOfAlistairAinsworth

Sunday, January 5, 2020

Book Review - Christmas Cow Bells




Christmas Cow Bells (A Buttermilk Creek Mystery #1)
Author:  Mollie Cox Bryan
Publisher:  Kensington Books
Publication Date:  September 24, 2019
4 Stars

Brynn is a newcomer to Shenandoah Springs.  She settled in the area with her three cows to become a local cheese producer.  Just down the road from Brynn is another newcomer to town, Nancy.  Nancy had purchased the old Glebe Church and planned to renovate it and turn it into a shop where local farmers could sell their goods everyday.  Nancy shared with Brynn the fact that the locals hadn’t been very supportive.  Brynn sympathized because one of her cows had lost her calf and had been bellowing ever since, and the locals had been vocal about their displeasure.   The two bonded over their shared goals and hurtles.

One night, a terrible fire broke out at the church, and Nancy is severely injured.  Brynn rushed to the hospital to be with her new friend, but Nancy died shortly after she got there.  Something about the fire bothered Brynn from the start.  So although she didn’t know Nancy well, she felt she owed it to Nancy to find out the truth.  As Brynn investigated the situation, she became even more convinced of foul play.  Then, mysterious things start happening on her own farm.  Brynn gets scared and thinks about leaving town.  However, she ends up digging her heels in and becomes even more determined to solve the mystery.

Christmas Cow Bells is the first book in a new series called the Buttermilk Creek Mysteries.  It is a great start to the series.  It has just enough background information on characters to allow you to become invested in them, and still plenty of mystery to keep you guessing all the way until the end.  This is often a tricky balance with a first in a series novel.  The author introduces us to a great set of varied characters including those of the four legged variety.  Our central character, Brynn, is a determined and kind hearted soul.  The secondary characters are plentiful, but not overwhelming,  giving us a very diverse group of suspects.  Brynn’s four legged friends have well developed personalities as well, and they are a great addition to the cast of characters.  Brynn builds some great relationships in this first story, and it will be interesting to see how these develop in future installment.  

The mystery was great with plenty of cheese crumbs left behind from beginning to end to help the reader find their way to the mystery’s solution.  This wasn’t an easy mystery to solve, however, as there were plenty of wrong paths to get lost on if you weren’t careful.  The only part of the plot I didn’t care for was that there were a couple of clues that Brynn did not share with the authorities immediately.  It wasn’t because she was trying to hide them, but more like she didn’t feel a rush to turn them over.  The clock seems to be frantically ticking so this seems a little out of place, and at least one important clue goes missing.

This story takes place at Christmastime, and although there is a mystery afoot, there is still Christmas spirit to be had.

Thanks to Net Galley and Kensington Books for an ARC of this book.  #NetGalley   #ChristmasCowBells

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Book Review - Fudge Bites




Fudge Bites (Candy-Coated Mysteries #7)
Author:  Nancy Coco
Publisher:  Kensington Books
Publication Date:  October 01, 2019
3 Stars

It’s Halloween time on Mackinac Island which means it’s time for the zombie walk, an annual charity event.  Allie, the owner of the McMurphy Hotel, is dressed and ready to go when her friend, Liz, suggests they go find a costume for Allie’s dog.  On the way back from the store, the ladies take a shortcut and cut through an alley.  They run into Allie’s cat, and they can’t help but notice that her paws are covered in blood.  The next thing they know, they hear a scream, and they follow it until they meet Sophie.  Sophie is very distressed, and believes that she has found a dead body.  The dead body turns out to be that of Anthony, the son of Maggs who works at the local drugstore.  As the police try and figure out who killed Anthony, Allie discovers that someone else in town was dressed almost exactly like Anthony the night he was murdered.  Allie begins to wonder if Anthony was truly the intended victim, or was this a case of mistaken identity?  Allie would like to get to the bottom of this, and the townspeople are behind her.

Many other reviewers have said that this book could be read as a stand alone outside of the series.  I found it hard to completely understand the characters though without some more background information.  For instance, both Allie’s friend and boyfriend have moved away, but it was hard to appreciate that loss without knowing what these relationships had been like.  Having said that, Allie seems like a very likable character, and she fits in well with the setting.  I would like to go back and read the other books in the series to get a real feel for her and the other recurring characters.

This book is a great mystery that is filled to the brim with lots of action.  There is so much going on in this story.  There are plenty of twists and turns which put not only Allie in danger, but the town’s senior citizens as well.  The killer is very crafty and hard to pin down.  I was guessing all the way until the end.

There are also some great recipes embedded within the story.  My favorite sounding is the butterscotch fudge.  I can’t wait to try it.

Thanks to Net Galley and Kensington Books for an ARC of this book.  #NetGalley #FudgeBites