Cozy

Review: Egg Drop Dead

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Egg Drop Dead
Egg Drop Dead by Laura Childs

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Three (3) stars to Laura Childs‘s Egg Drop Dead, her seventh in the “Crackleberry Club” mystery series. I don’t usually read books in the middle of a series, but I won a copy of this book and decided to start midway. I will go back and read the others as it’s a fun series.


Story

Suzanne and her friends, Petra and Toni, are from the Crackleberry Club, a local shoppe full with an eatery, knitting store and a book nook. When Suzanne stumbles upon a very dead Mike Mullens, who normally provides all her dairy products, she’s shocked and feels compelled to help the local police investigate. As she investigates the widow, the sneaky horse salesman, the peculiar new dairy salesman, the autistic young man with a difficult mother and the lecherous but handsome real estate developer, she begins to put the picture together. It all culminates in a Halloween event full of fright, where even Suzanne realizes how many clues she missed along the way.


Strengths

Strong cast of characters. Good scenery. Obvious backstory we learn just enough about to entice us to read more. Fair balance of relationships and complexity among everyone.

Easy read. It took me 2 days (over a 5-day period as I couldn’t read several of them!) and the pages fly by quickly.


Suggestions

The culprit and/or motive (don’t want to spoil anything) came a little out of left field. If it’s tied together, I don’t mind, which it was — just a little too loosely this time. It was a little too predictable how it happened and I’m not sure readers would be able to figure it out on their own without pulling the proverbial rabbit from the holey hat.

I wanted to know more about the dead guy to feel a little more interest in his character. He felt a bit like just any ole’ guy that got himself killed… being a mystery buff, I’m fine with that; however, it would jump up a notch with more detail and background.


Final Thoughts

Cute series. I’ll chance a few others. I’m curious how the name Crackleberry fits in, as well as the title. It had nothing to do with the mystery as far as I can tell!

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Review: A Fatal Twist

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A Fatal Twist
A Fatal Twist by Tracy Weber

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

4 stars to Tracy Weber‘s A Fatal Twist, the fourth book in her Downward Dog mystery series. I don’t usually read a book from the middle of a series, but this one fell in my lap and I decided to give it a chance. I will go back and read the earlier ones next.


Story

Kate’s a yoga instructor with a penchant for finding dead bodies and adopting homeless pets. When a pair of 6 week old puppies appear on her doorstep, she and boyfriend, Michael, agree to watch them until finding a better home. But their older dog, Bella, not the friendliest of animals to those she doesn’t know, has medical issues, which makes it difficult. And then Kate’s student’s husband is found murdered in the birthing hospital where Kate’s just started working as a doula. She’s got a cast of doctors, nurses and ex-girlfriends to tackle in trying to save her friend from being put in prison. Weaving the puppy adoption, her new career as a doula, her increasing investigation skills and decisions on her relationship lead Kate through many twists and turns, but in the end, she solves the case and finds a home for the puppies. And almost avoids another near-death injury.


Strengths

I know nothing about yoga, but I learned a few things. Might even give a class a try one day. I love dogs and there are many lighthearted and funny moments to make readers think of their own pets.

The entire concept of the doula was new to me, and very interesting. Being a man, and not having children, the concept of childbirth is a bit foreign to me. I know enough now! 🙂 But not in a bad way. The details were handled with great aplomb, and always from a very medical and nurturing perspective. Makes me wonder how I would feel about natural childbirth.

The mystery was in that middle sweet spot. Not easy. Not difficult. Enough characters to create some red herrings, side stories and realistic clues. Very little interaction with the police, which makes the book so much more believable when a non-detective gets close to a murder investigation. I never found myself thinking “this couldn’t happen.”

Characters are funny, sweet and memorable. I want to know what happens to them in the future. Michael and Kate. Nicole and Rachel. Sam and Rene. Betty. Bella.

Writing is clear, direct and at the right level. Not simple. Not convoluted. A few great narrative sections, witty dialogue and descriptive settings.


Suggestions

I’m not sure the title fits. But that’s not a very big issue, is it? Of course it was fatal, and there’s always a twist in the cozy mystery.

I think someone would have figured out the murderer’s true problem (don’t want to give away spoilers) before Kate, given this takes place in a hospital among people “in the know.” But I can close my eyes and squint to see how this turn of events would have happened.


Final Thoughts

I enjoy the series. It’s got lots of side stories between yoga, dogs, medicine, birthing, etc. And the backstory seems interesting, so it’s probably worth reading from the beginning. Plus it takes place in Seattle. Can’t wait to see more of the surroundings!

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Review: Engaged in Danger: A Jamie Quinn Mystery

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Engaged in Danger: A Jamie Quinn Mystery
Engaged in Danger: A Jamie Quinn Mystery by Barbara Venkataraman

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

4 stars to Barbara Venkataraman‘s novel Engaged in Danger: A Jamie Quinn Mystery, her fourth in the “Jamie Quinn Mysteries” series. Each successive book in this series grows stronger and builds a fun and intimate group of friends and colleagues who help Jamie tackle complex cases. It’s light-hearted, amusing and dare I say… engaging! (seriously wasn’t intending a pun there)


Story

Jamie, a family law attorney, receives a visit from Nan Glasser, long-suffering wife of an adulterer, shady business man and potential murderer. Nan wants a divorce but over 30 attorneys have already declined taking her case because of her husband’s interference. Jamie searches for someone to help her but ultimately finds herself taking on the case with best friend Grace who has the resources to help out Nan. Along the way, Jamie receives threats, deals with legal drama and almost finds herself a murder victim trying to help save Nan. In the end, she of course comes out alive but each new case is definitely changing the structure of her once quiet law practice.

As a few fun side-stories which collide with the main one: Jamie’s boyfriend is called to Australia for a 3-month work assignment. She and Grace fight over Grace’s choice in a new boyfriend. Duke has troubles with his on-again / off-again girlfriend who once took out a highway billboard to tell the world he was a cheater. And Jamie helps her neighbors search for a mysterious holding company who owned the plane that went down killing their sister and brother-in-law. It may seem like everything’s disconnected, but when it all finds a common link, Jamie’s world is turned upside down!


Strengths

Some authors have an amazing way of incorporating detail, background and descriptions without interfering with the story, and Barbara Venkataraman is one of them. You learn so much about Jamie, family law, history and the setting without even realizing it. Rather than several paragraphs of backstory dropped throughout (which also works well in some styles), the Jamie Quinn series drops tons of details in small blips so it feels like an actual conversation, a normal evolution of a relationship between two people. I love this style especially when complemented with a very relaxed, humorous, casual and collaborative approach to telling the story. Jamie’s voice is loud and clear, and when I read the words on the page, I actually find myself pausing when I think Jamie would pause, being snarky when she’d be snarky and being forward/direct when I think she would be. That doesn’t always happen for other authors or series… sometimes I love the characters and the books, but I don’t develop my own voice for the character when reading the lines. I absolutely do here and it helps make the read even more amusing and enjoyable.


Suggestions

While the story was full of surprises and had multiple arcs to keep readers curious about how it would all blend together, the ending came a little too fast for me. About 3/4 of the way through, you are just about to put all the connections together and suddenly a chapter ends with Jamie falling into a trap and boom… it’s solved in the beginning of the next chapter. I would have loved just one or two extra chapters of drama with Jamie trapped trying to workout in her head who had caught her before quickly knowing what happened. This could just be a matter of taste (I like the extra drama aspects) as it was still executed well and had suspense in the way the resolve was written. It’s one of the only times I found myself thinking in this novel… “hmm…” because other than that, it was a fantastic read.


Final Thoughts

I’m a little sad that I’m caught up in this series and may have to wait a bit before the next one is released. But when it is, you can be sure I’ll purchase this one the week it comes out.

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Review: The Chardonnay Charade

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The Chardonnay Charade
The Chardonnay Charade by Ellen Crosby

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

3 out of 5 stars to Ellen Crosby‘s The Chardonnay Charade, her second book in the “Wine Country Mysteries” series. I enjoy wine and I enjoy this series, but I found myself putting the book down a few times without any sense of urgency to get back to it. In the end, I am glad I read it and I will continue a few more in the series, but there were a few times I wasn’t very engaged due to the way the story has been told.


Story

Lucie Montgomery is still healing from the death of her father and a few other family friends in the last book when the wife of her doctor is found dead in Lucie’s vineyard, possibly due to her staff’s negligent activities. Lucie soon learns the victim was bashed on the head prior to having some of the chemicals on her property attack the victim’s body, but the suspects all point to friends of hers which makes it even harder to accept. Lucie supports her doctor who is accused of the murders and helps him prove his alibi, but when another death adds the intrigue of political scandal, Lucie’s confused. Her vineyard becomes a spot for lovers’ trysts upping the game of who is actually having an affair on his/her spouse. Add in a charming British transplant, some sisterly bonding time with Mia and the potential for Quinn, her new winemaker, to abandon her (or kiss her!), and you’ve got tons of stories beginning to burgeon. In the end, the killer is caught but it’s not something Lucie is happy to hear given all that she’s been through lately.


Strengths

If you love wine, you will feel right at home. The author adds in many different background stories about the grapes, processes and EPA oversight regulations. It helps you feel connected with a bit of the past when Thomas Jefferson built wineries from European grapes, something important to these Virginia vintners.

Lucy is a great character who you sometimes dislike and sometimes root for. I like the balanced approach because she seems very real. She is well-written with flaws and strengths, but each time, I find myself wanting to keep learning more.


Suggestions

I really don’t like Lucie’s family, but I’m hoping her relationship with them will change in the next book given what happened to Mia at the end of this one (no spoilers here!). It feels like Lucie is too alone and I want her to have someone on her side for a change.

The plot was a bit predictable. I had 3 potential outcomes (and there were quite a number of suspects) and this was at the top of my list. I didn’t want it to come true, but it did… I think it bothers me because I took it as another blow to Lucie that the killer is someone she knows (not really a spoiler as she knows almost all of the suspects). I was hoping it would go differently.


Final Thoughts

I waffled between a 3 and a 4 on this review, having a few good highlights but also a few “blah” parts… in the end, I think it gets pushed down to a 3 because it took me a week to read and I’m usually done in 3 days with a book of this size. It rolls along without any major cliffhangers or major dramatic moments which can be good but sometimes you need a few surprise nudges. If you’ve read the first one and are on the fence about the second one… if you need suspense and action, this isn’t for you; however, if you enjoy the relaxing story-telling type approach, then you should keep reading this series.

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Review: Carrot Cake Murder

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Carrot Cake Murder
Carrot Cake Murder by Joanne Fluke

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

4 stars to Joanne Fluke‘s Carrot Cake Murder, the tenth book in the “Hannah Swensen” cozy murder mystery series, a series which was made into several fun TV movies called “Murder, She Baked” starring Alison Sweeney and Cameron Mathison. The series continues to delight readers, providing at least 15 to 20 recipes that sound delicious and look fairly easy to make. I recommend you give all three a try — the book, the movie and the food!


Story

As set up in the previous book, Hannah’s protege and part-owner of their shared Lake Eden Bakery, Lisa, and her new husband Herb, traffic cop extraordinaire, are having an extended family re-union on Eden Lake. One of their long-lost relatives, Gus Klein, randomly shows up and begins to cause trouble like he did when he was a child some thirty-five years ago. But this time, his trouble earns him an ice pick to the heart — what some say is cold justice payback! There are tons of suspects in this murder mystery all connected to Herb and Lisa’s family, and at this point in the series, Detective Mike Kingston (1 of Hannah’s 2 primary love interests) no longer pretends to stop Hannah from trying to investigate, he encourages it. With both her sisters’ and mother’s, as well as her other primary love interest, dentist Norman Rhodes, Hannah begins digging up all the dirt she can. Gus is not as wealthy as he claimed, and is only back in town to run some final scam, but it turns out to be his last one. Hannah rounds up the suspects and proves alibis one-by-one until she’s left with the one person she had a gut instinct about along the way… luckily, she’s saved by Mike just before the killer tries to knock her out too.

And for some extra fun on the side, Hannah spends a lot of time with Norman making us all root for him to win her heart, only to throw a little monkey-wrench into the plan at the end when Ross, the other paramour from a few books in the past, sizzles back into town wanting to see her as soon as possible. Well now what’s Hannah going to do… not only will she have 3 men to juggle but her mother just got a book romance book published starring… her own daughters. Lake Eden is gonna be hopping in book 11!


Strengths

1. Hannah is a really fun character. She has so many great traits and a couple of flaws but it all makes her so real. She is sometimes a little too rude / direct, sometimes a little flaky and sometimes just too independent for her own good. But she is also charming, pretty, a great baker and a very accomplished woman.

2. Author Fluke knows how to integrate so many families and keeps it connected throughout each book in the series. It’s great to see / hear so many faces popping up from prior books that you really feel like you’re part of the story.

3. The mystery has some intrigue and complexity to it for a cozy. There’s at least 5 to 6 possible suspects and you have a few twists and turns that keep you guessing.


Suggestions

1. Hannah’s love triangle and now quadrangle… ugh, heart-breaker… but we really need her to let someone go. I like both Mike and Norman, but I see Norman as the better match for her in the long-run. I also like Ross and am curious to see what happens in the next book. But 3’s too much. I’m not trying to hold my girl back, but she hasn’t done more than kiss any of them and has this much trouble trying to figure out who is right for her??? What’s gonna happen when it gets steamier???

2. Love the recipes but they’re starting to take over the book. I’d like to limit it to 10 per book so you are enjoying the mystery more than the cooking. Don’t get me wrong, I love desserts, but I can’t cook everything she throws out there!


Final Thoughts

The cozy mystery has a certain kind of reader base. You’re not gonna find major romance or suspense, or even a lot of thrilling murders. It’s light and fun… with a few gut punches to keep you paying attention. The Hannah Swensen series has been fairly consistent thru ten books. So if you’re a cozy fan, and you like to stay with the same bunch of characters, you should be reading this series.

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Review: Peril in the Park

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Peril in the Park
Peril in the Park by Barbara Venkataraman

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

4 stars to Barbara Venkataraman‘s Peril in the Park, her third book in the “Jamie Quinn Mystery” series.  I chose to read the electronic version to see if I could switch mediums, but it is also offered as an audio book and in paperback.  I imagine the audio book with Duke’s personality would be a really fun way to spend a few hours before bed or on your lunch break!


Story

Jamie takes on her third mystery alongside friends Grace and Duke where she helps her boyfriend Kip determine who is the “Park Vandal” and who is stalking both of them over Kip’s decisions at his new job as the Director of Parks & Recreation in Broward County, Florida. In his new job, Kip’s made some quick decisions to change up the structure of the department and hired/fired several employees. When the commissioner, his boss and some wealthy entrepreneurs apply pressure for Kip to be the deciding vote in favor of building a new tower on wetlands, Kip’s caught between doing the right thing and keeping his job. After Jamie receives threatening emails about Kip, she enlists her friends help to track down who is behind all the mayhem. Is it the commissioner who wants the money the business man is willing to spend? Is the business man crooked? Is it one of the fired employees? Is it the employee who was passed over for the director position? Many good suspects in this one… plus the Renaissance Fair is just a fun treat to watch unfold. And as a good side-story, Jamie finally meets her father through Skype and attempts to find a way to get him citizenship in the US so he can come back from Nicaragua.


Strengths

This book increases the page count and ties the stories more tightly together. Jamie is quickly becoming a fun heroine you want to root for, and her friends and colleagues make you laugh. The series is developing quite well and brings levity and humor in all the right places. There’s a good balance in showing “a day in the life of Jamie Quinn” without overdoing all the mundane items people deal with besides the fun drama we all want to read about. Before you know it, the story has blossomed and you are invested in the characters. Duke’s antics are always a treat, but he takes it to a new level when he revisits the past in this one.


Suggestions

I would love to see the book extend about 25% longer, but each book has added about 20 pages so it’s definitely progressing in the right direction. The stories have a good plot, but could use a little more mystery, red herrings and suspense to fully complete the hook to drag in a new reader base. If the intended audience is for people who only want a short 1 to 2 hour read, then it’s exactly on target, but with some additional story and plot, advancing to the 3 to 4 hour read, I think it would pick up a much larger fan base.


Final Thoughts

I’m very supportive of this series because you see the growth over the first three books. I will definitely purchase the fourth one (under $4 bargain!) as it’s a great electronic read.

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Review: The Case of the Killer Divorce

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The Case of the Killer Divorce
The Case of the Killer Divorce by Barbara Venkataraman

3+ stars to Barbara Venkataraman‘s The Case of the Killer Divorce, her second novella in the “Jamie Quinn Mystery” e-book series. It fell a little short of a 4 because it’s not quite a traditional cozy mystery or romance mystery given there’s very little romance and a small cast of characters involved in the murder. But it had some good fun, quirky characters and sharp dialogue so it was better than a 3 in my world. (I rarely give out a 5 just to set the scale).


Story

Jamie’s a family law attorney who took off a couple of years when her mother passed away. In the first book in the series, she’s thrust into a criminal case to save her cousin, but in this second book, she’s helping her client Becca get through what seems like a rough divorce from her husband Joe — that is, until Joe turns up dead from an overdose of Becca’s sleeping pills hidden in a Tylenol bottle. Did Joe accidentally kill himself? Was it Becca hoping to ensure she retained fully custody of their children? Or was it Becca’s new boyfriend (and previously a good friend of Joe’s) trying to get the ex out of the picture?

In this short novella, readers experience drama both in and out of the courtroom with this case, including Jamie’s budding friendships with the DA Nick and PI Duke. Throw in her Aunt Peg and her criminal lawyer best friend Grace and Jamie’s got tons of folks to help her get through her re-acclimation to the legal world. But in this book, we learn Jamie never knew her father and is looking to find out more about him. When she stumbles upon a few leads, and a gift from her late mother, Jamie’s world begins to turn upside down as she embraces all sorts of change in her life.


Strengths

For a novella, there is a lot of action and multiple side-stories packed into the plot. It’s quick-paced and you’ll find yourself enjoying the read in about 60 to 90 minutes — perfect for when you can’t fall asleep quickly but are afraid to start an entire new 300 page novel that threatens to keep you awake all night! The characters are funny and the easy dialogue makes you feel like you’re talking to or reading about a friend. It’s simple and straightforward without any fluffy language that attempts to send you off into complex literary bliss — which is a good thing when you just want a fun little mystery to solve.


Suggestions

I am not sure I’d call it a mystery though! There is certainly an element of “who killed Joe” and “will Jamie find her father” but if you’re a traditional cozy mystery buff, this may seem out of character. It’s still a good story, but doesn’t have a cast of 5 or 6 characters who could be the killer, and you don’t get a lot of clues to try to figure it out yourself. I’d like to see maybe one more potential suspect to build up a little more suspense and reader involvement in the story (but that’s just me!).


Final Thoughts

I enjoy the series. It’s fun and easy to read. Jamie seems very real and Duke is a blast. I can hear his accent and see him parading around whenever he’s in a scene. I look forward to watching this series build and grow into a more substantial story.

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