Review: Deadly Summer Nights by Vicki Delany + Giveaway

Review: Deadly Summer Nights by Vicki Delany + GiveawayDeadly Summer Nights (Catskill Summer Resort Mystery #1) by Vicki Delany
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: cozy mystery, historical mystery
Series: Catskill Summer Resort Mystery #1
Pages: 304
Published by Berkley Books on September 14, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

An immersive setting with details of running a Catskillsresort in the 1950s (think Kellerman's in Dirty Dancing) beautifully frame a story with plot twists and a cast of well-delineated characters.--Booklist
A summer of fun at a Catskills resort comes to an abrupt end when a guest is found murdered, in this new 1950s set mystery series.
It's the summer of 1953, and Elizabeth Grady is settling into Haggerman's Catskills Resort. As a vacation getaway, Haggerman's is ideal, and although Elizabeth's ostentatious but well-meaning mother is new to running the resort, Elizabeth is eager to help her organize the guests and the entertainment acts. But Elizabeth will have to resort to untested abilities if she wants to save her mother's business.
When a reclusive guest is found dead in a lake on the grounds, and a copy of The Communist Manifesto is found in his cabin, the local police chief is convinced that the man was a Russian spy. But Elizabeth isn't so sure, and with the fate of the resort hanging in the balance, she'll need to dodge red herrings, withstand the Red Scare, and catch a killer red-handed.

My Review:

Remember the movie Dirty Dancing? That romantic drama was set in the same location as this cozy mystery series, just ten years later. Things don’t seem to have changed much in the Catskills summer resorts during that intervening decade, but that was kind of the point.

One of the real Catskill resorts during its glory days

Back in the 1950s, the time period of this series, the Catskills resorts were in their storied heyday, not just a place but an entire experience, a setting where middle and upper class New Yorkers could retreat from the city’s heat to a beautiful mountain location upstate, close enough that the husbands could come up on the weekends to visit their families but still work in the city on weekdays.

And the resorts were self-contained enough to keep the wives and children entertained and cosseted for as long as the family could afford. An entire summer if they could manage it. Kind of like a cruise ship, just without the shore excursions.

Elizabeth Grady, manager of Haggerman’s Catskills Resort, and her mother, retired Broadway star Olivia Grady, are new to the Catskills. The summer of 1953 is only their second season, and Elizabeth is determined to make a go of the only asset she and her mother have. No matter who, or what, gets in her way.

They seem to be on track to profitability this year – or at least they are until the dead body of one of their guests is pulled from the lake one night.

That a guest might die while at the resort is not unheard of. Many of their guests are neither young nor in perfect health. Families have come to the Catskills resorts for at least two generations at this point, and sometimes those generations pass while at the resort.

But a murder is entirely other matter. Guests come to the Catskills to GET away from it all, not to be done away with as this one certainly was. This pot of scandal is further stirred when the local police chief searches the guest’s cabin, discovers a couple of maps and a copy of the Communist Manifesto, and calls the FBI in on suspicion that the “Reds” that Senator Eugene McCarthy is screaming about in Washington have made their way to the Catskills.

Elizabeth needs to find the murderer before the scandal takes her fledgling business right under the water along with the corpse. While her competition from the other resorts cheer on her business’ demise.

Some of them, at least, are absolutely salivating at the very though. After all, it will just prove what they’ve been saying all along, that running a business like Haggerman’s is simply not a suitable job for a woman.

Escape Rating A-: There is a lot to like in Deadly Summer Nights, and one thing that niggled at me a lot. I’ll get to that in a bit.

What I really liked about this story was the way that it dug a bit deeper into what the real world was like during the 1950s, as opposed to keeping reality at bay as the Catskills resorts were famous for doing in their heyday. Which were, after all, the 1950s.

Elizabeth is a woman running a business at a time when women were expected to stay home with the children and not “worry their pretty little heads” about such things as payrolls and suppliers and invoices and contracts. She’s every bit as competent and capable as any man around her and knows they’re being stupid and ridiculous but she plays as much of the game as she must in order to get by.

And she’s very good at asserting her authority when she has to – as she all too frequently does. That she can’t assert any authority over her mother is an entirely different matter. Most of us can’t manage that particular trick no matter how necessary we feel it might be.

I loved the way this story dealt with McCarthyism and the “Red Scare” of the 1950s. The police chief’s witch hunt is bogus and everyone knows it’s bogus. At the same time everyone has to take it seriously out of fear of very real consequences.

I also enjoyed the way that this series opener creates Elizabeth’s world, the resort and it’s annual three months of frenzy, the relationships between Elizabeth and her mother and her aunt, the way she treats her employees, how she deals with the guests, including the demanding divas, and the symbiotic relationship between the resorts and the towns that they are not quite a part of.

I have to say that the focus of the story is on the worldbuilding rather than the mystery, and that works for a series opener. The red herrings are certainly tasty, but Elizabeth has so many fish to fry on an average day that her investigation gets a bit lost in the chaos. I liked her more than enough to enjoy watching her work, whether on the murder or just keeping the resort afloat.

About that thing that niggled at me.

Although this review is being posted around the publication date of the book, I actually read it back in July. On the weekend I read this one of the last of the “Borscht Belt” comedians, Jackie Mason, passed away at the age of 93. I know this seems like a non sequitur, but it’s not. Because the “Borscht Belt” where Mason and so many others honed their stand up routines was just another name for the Catskills summer resorts where this story takes place. The Catskills resorts catered to a Jewish clientele, served Kosher food and gave a lot of Jewish comedians their start or bolstered their careers.

As is mentioned in the story, Milton Berle really did perform in the Catskills. The comedian who gets caught up in the murder investigation was probably based on Lenny Bruce, who also performed there during his all-too-brief but controversial career.

At first, I couldn’t figure out what was missing at Haggerman’s, until I realized that the context of who the clients were and who many of the owners were was entirely missing. If it was subtext it was so sub that I missed it. And I feel like a lot of the flavor of the area was lost.

Your reading mileage, of course, may vary.

But I really liked Elizabeth, her family and her resort, more than enough that I’ll be back for her next Catskills season in Deadly Director’s Cut, coming next March. Just at the point where winter’s doldrums will make reading about the summer sun seem like a real getaway!

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Review: Peaches and Schemes by Anna Gerard + Giveaway

Review: Peaches and Schemes by Anna Gerard + GiveawayPeaches and Schemes: A Georgia B&B Mystery by Anna Gerard
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: cozy mystery, mystery
Series: Georgia B&B #3
Pages: 304
Published by Crooked Lane Books on May 11, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

In Anna Gerard's third delightful Georgia B&B mystery, Nina Fleet learns that despite the satin, lace, and buttercream trappings, weddings often prove to be anything but sweet...
Undeterred by the handful of hiccups she's had with her bed and breakfast in the small tourist town of Cymbeline, Georgia, Nina Fleet has her pedal to the medal to make her inn the best it can be with her trusty Australian Shepherd, Matilda. Looking for potential new guests, Nina takes a booth at the annual Veils and Vanities Bridal Expo, put on by the town's two wedding pros: Virgie Hamilton, retirement-aged dress shop owner, and Roxanna Query, a Gen X event planner and Nina's new friend. But everything goes wrong when Roxanna comes tumbling out of an oversized prop wedding cake, strangled to death by a scarf.
Virgie is immediately arrested for the crime, having been overheard accusing her partner of embezzlement. Nina is incensed to believe Roxanna's denials from the argument since Virgie has a relationship for burning bridges. Meanwhile, Nina's sometimes nemesis and current tenant Harry Westcott informs Nina that her lousy ex-husband is engaged to be married again. Unable to wrap her mind around the news, and incensed by her friend's murder, she goes to do the very least she can: rescue Roxanna's now ownerless dog. But when she does to Roxanna's house, the place is ransacked.
Virgie's been in custody this whole time, without enough time to have made the scene since Roxanna left her house. The police have the wrong man, but when he's released from custody, he immediately disappears, and Nina is convinced it's more than a case of skipping bail. That's when she finds on her front gate a scarf identical to the one on Roxanna's neck when she died. A warning? Now Nina fears that if she can't find Virgie, tying the knot will take on a whole new meaning just for her.

My Review:

I have to say that Cymbeline Georgia is growing on me with every book in this series – but I still miss the nuns from Peach Clobbered. They were definitely something special and I’m still hoping for a return visit.

Even if the homicide rate is approaching that of Cabot Cove, Maine.

The murder that kicks of this particular installment of “as the bodies drop” takes place in a scene that is often fraught with high drama – even if in this case the drama inducement is a bit of by proxy.

I’m referring to weddings. Tensions often run high at weddings, whether on the part of the couple getting married, their respective families, the audience, or all of the above. The stakes feel so high and so many people want to get everything perfect on this special day. But there are plenty of ways that things can go wrong, and so many people are so stressed that its easy for even the littlest things to get blown out of proportion.

The wedding business, therefore, is a business of high stakes and high drama. So it’s not all that surprising that Nina Fleet, owner of the Fleet House Bed and Breakfast, hears not one but two threatening “conversations” between one of the organizers of the local wedding convention and various participants in the event said organizer organized.

But the stakes get higher when the corpse of one of the participants in those conversations spills out of a fake cake at the end of the bridal fashion show in front of an audience expecting to see the latest in bridal creations and not the town’s most recent corpse.

Nina can’t help getting involved this time – not that ever can. The victim was a close friend, while the suspected murderer – as argumentative as the woman ALWAYS is – just plain didn’t have the physical strength to strangle someone with their own scarf. Especially considering that the scarf tripped her Trypophobia.

The cops aren’t quite ready to believe they’ve got it wrong – but someone sure thinks that Nina is on the right track – and keeps trying to run her over with their car to prove it. The question is who – along with why. And how many “shots” at Nina will they get to take before Nina finally puts the pieces together.

Escape Rating B+: Part of the charm of this series – and it certainly is charming – is in the cast of characters and the setting the author has created to contain them and their murderous ways.

Well, not their murderous ways exactly. So far, at least, when Nina puts on her “Secret Squirrel” hat and starts looking into something she has no business investigating, both the victim and the murderer inevitably turn out to be people who are new in town – or new back in town. Nina and her cast of friends and regulars may occasionally be suspects but they’re never the guilty party.

And that’s the way it should be in a cozy mystery series.

But there’s one continuing character in this series who, while not generally a murder suspect, is usually suspected of being up to something, and this entry in the series is no exception.

Nina Fleet and Harry Westcott have been the best of frenemies since Peach Clobbered, when Harry rode into town on a tour bus dressed as Harvey, the 6’ tall white rabbit, claiming that he was the true owner of the home that Nina had just converted into a B&B. Harry is now living at Fleet House, in the high turret he used to occupy when his great-aunt owned the place. Nina and Harry aren’t exactly friends, aren’t exactly enemies, and certainly aren’t lovers, but they have come to rely on and depend upon each other in a way that makes both of them more than a bit uneasy.

They care about each other but they don’t exactly trust each other. They can’t resist sniping at each other about their true motivations for continuing to look out for each other. Neither of them is ready for any kind of a relationship and neither of them is quite willing to let go.

So they end up as partners in crime and the solving of it more often than not. I hope the resolution of whatever they are going to be to each other takes a long time because it’s fun to watch them spark and snipe.

Reading Nina’s latest adventure, I also can’t help but think that Nina Fleet and Charlie Harris, the increasingly less amateur detective of the Cat in the Stacks series, would get along like a house on fire, comparing notes on how they each got into being amateur detectives in their small Southern towns, and just how often they’ve each promised local law enforcement to keep their inquisitive noses out of police business – only to break that promise as soon as the case starts to hit too close to home. As small as both Cymbeline GA and Athena MS are, it’s all too easy for that to happen in blink of an eye.

As it does in Peaches and Schemes, much to my reading enjoyment. I had a great time visiting Cymbeline again and I’m looking forward to Nina’s next case. But I still miss those nuns!

~~~~~~ TOURWIDE GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

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Review: Murder by Page One by Olivia Matthews

Review: Murder by Page One by Olivia MatthewsMurder by Page One (Peach Coast Library Mystery #1) by Olivia Matthews
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: cozy mystery, mystery
Series: Peach Coast Library Mystery #1
Pages: 336
Published by Hallmark Publishing on March 23, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads


If you love Hallmark mystery movies,
you’ll love this cozy mystery
with humor, romance, and a librarian amateur sleuth.

Marvey’s a librarian from Brooklyn who makes book-themed jewelry as a hobby, looks after her cranky cat, and supports events for readers and authors. She’s still adjusting to quirky small-town life in Georgia—and that’s before she discovers a dead body in a bookstore.
When her new best friend becomes a suspect, Marvey develops a new hobby: solving a murder mystery. With her talents for research, her knowledge gleaned from crime novels, and a whole lot of determination, she pursues the truth. But even as she gets closer to it, could she be facing a deadly plot twist?
This first in series cozy mystery includes a free Hallmark original recipe.

My Review:

Cymbeline and Peach Coast Georgia seem to be just up the road from each other, both are picturesque small Georgia towns, not too near and not too far from the “big” cities of Atlanta and Savannah. Both are places where an outsider can be considered a “real” resident after not too much time, and both seem to be lovely places for a extremely amateur detective to take up the investigation of murder as a slightly dangerous hobby.

If you’re wondering, Cymbeline is the location of the Georgia B&B cozy mystery series, while Peach Coast is the setting for today’s cozy mystery, featuring Marvey Harris as the budding sleuth desperate to save her best friend in her new town, Jo Gomez, the owner of the oh-so-tempting To Be Read Bookstore.

Back to Marvey, who is always very tempted by that bookstore, as she is the recently transplanted Community Engagement Director at the Peach Coast Library. The more that she can raise awareness of the library and increase participation in all the wonderful things that the library has to offer, the better her chances of helping the library to get a much-needed budget increase – not to mention keep the job she moved from New York City (and the New York Public Library) to take.

Synergy between the library and the local bookstore is certainly part of her strategy as it is in real library life too. That Marvey and Jo have bonded over their mutual love of reading is icing on a very tasty cake.

Or it is until their big event at the bookstore, a multi-author book signing for several published authors who live in Peach Coast, is interrupted by the murder of one of those authors who is supposed to be signing her books.

But when Fiona Lyle-Hayes doesn’t come out for the signing, Marvey, Jo and local newspaper owner, editor AND reporter (also local heartthrob) Spence Holt start searching the store’s backrooms for their reluctant author. Only to discover her not-yet-cold corpse.

When the local cops seem to be taking the easy way out of solving the murder – accusing Jo because the body was found in her store – instead of actually investigating the crime, Marvey and Spence take the investigation into their own amateur hands.

After all, they’re both good at research, and they have much more open minds than the local deputies. The deputies want Jo to be guilty because she’s not a local and it would make their jobs easier all the way around if she were the culprit.

Marvey and Spence however, are sure that Jo is innocent – and certain that there were plenty of locals who had a much better motive – actually any motive at all – for killing one of the most unpopular people in town.

Their quest to find a better suspect makes a whole lot of people in Peach Coast extremely uncomfortable. People like the mayor, who controls the town’s, and therefore the library’s, budget; those local cops who don’t like having doubt cast on their investigative prowess – and the real killer hidden in the shadows.

Escape Rating B: Peach Coast, like Cymbeline, seems like a wonderful place to visit. One of those places where I wish I knew the town it was modeled on, because it would only be a day trip from home.

This is, after all, the start of a cozy mystery series and Peach Coast sounds so very cozy.

As the story begins, Marvey is very much an outsider in this small town, something that is often the case for detectives, whether amateur or professional, at least in fiction. She’s only been in town for four months, and no matter how long she stays she’ll always be considered a bit of an outsider. Except for being certain that her friend isn’t the murderer, Marvey doesn’t have any preconceived notions of who the murderer might be. But she does need more local knowledge than she has, and that’s where Spence comes in. His roots in the community go back generations, he knows everyone and everyone knows him. While he’s equally certain Jo didn’t do it, there are people in town he is more than inclined to believe are also innocent. That’s not an issue in this case but it might be if the series continues.

One of the things that worked very well in this amateur investigation was the way that all of the things they thought they knew about the victim turned out to be misleading at best and utterly false at worst. Because Fiona was an outsider, and because she tended to keep herself to herself, there was more gossip about her than fact and people believed the gossip because it was salacious.

Shy people are often thought to be arrogant and aloof, and Fiona got lumped into that kind of misjudgment.

The process of the amateur investigation, the one step forward two steps back nature of it, the false starts and hard stops, was done very well, even if a couple of things that happened made me feel like either I missed something or the detectives did. Specifically, we never did really get an explanation of why the local cops so very focused on Jo from the outset. She had zero motive, while the victim was a controversial figure around town to say the least, meaning that the number of people with seemingly excellent motives was rather high – much too high to be ignored by the cops. Something about that part of the scenario smelled rotten. I kept expecting the cops to either be involved or at least have their own motive for their behavior, but we didn’t see it.

That no one, neither the librarian nor the newspaperman nor the cops did any actual investigation of the victim’s life before she moved to Peach Coast felt like an obvious point that got overlooked by, clearly, everyone.

That being said, the whole thing was a lot of fun and I enjoyed following Marvey – and Spence – in the process of finding out who really done it. Also in what looked the very first steps of possibly exploring a relationship beyond mere friendship – or partners in solving crime.

Part of that enjoyment, part of the reason I picked up Murder by Page One in the first place, was that Marvey Harris was a librarian. And she read and felt like “one of us”, which made the book even more fun for this librarian to read and enjoy! (And as a librarian myself, I can’t resist recommending the Georgia B&B series, starting with Peach Clobbered, makes a terrific readalike for Murder by Page One and vice-versa!)

As this is the first book in a new series, I’m looking forward to a return visit to Peach Coast whenever Marvey finds herself involved in another case.

 

About the Author

Olivia Matthews is the cozy mystery pseudonym for Patricia Sargeant, a national best-selling, award-winning author. Her work has been featured in national publications such as Publishers Weekly, USA Today, Kirkus Reviews, Suspense Magazine, Mystery Scene Magazine, Library Journal and RT Book Reviews. For more information about Patricia and her work, visit PatriciaSargeant.com.

Author Links 
 

 

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Review: Fishing for Trouble by Elizabeth Logan + Giveaway

Review: Fishing for Trouble by Elizabeth Logan + GiveawayFishing for Trouble (Alaskan Diner Mystery #2) by Elizabeth Logan
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: cozy mystery, mystery
Series: Alaskan Diner #2
Pages: 304
Published by Berkley Books on November 24, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Something fishy is going on at a local seafood processing plant, and Charlie Cooke is on the hook to solve the case in this new Alaskan Diner Mystery.
Summer has come to Elkview, Alaska, bringing twenty hours of sunlight every day, not to mention a surge of tourists and seasonal workers. Chef Charlie Cooke is eager for a busy yet relaxing season, but when a young man working a summer job at the local fish processing plant dies moments after walking into the Bear Claw Diner, she’s quickly swept into the investigation.
Soon, through her best friend Annie Jensen, Charlie learns that another student worker at J and M Processing has disappeared, leaving more questions and fewer answers. The near-endless sunlight gives plenty of time to search for clues, but Charlie will have to work with Annie and local reporter Chris Doucette to net the killer before anyone else gets hurt.

My Review:

Whenever someone’s ex shows up in a story, it always means drama. Not always trouble – although usually trouble – but always drama.

In romance, when an ex shows up with whom the protagonist has unfinished business, there’s the possibility of a second-chance-at-love story. But there are always other possibilities, especially in a mystery series like the Alaskan Diner series.

When Charlie’s (let’s call him emotionally abusive – as well as unfaithful) ex turns up in tiny Elkview, Alaska, it certainly wasn’t to deal with any unfinished emotional business between them – no matter what the lying, cheating asshole pretended.

Oh, he’s still emotionally manipulative and abusive – just for kicks. It was enough to make me think that Ryan Jamison was going to turn out to be an EvilEx™ but he wasn’t nearly that important.

He was just a sleazy lawyer on retainer for a local fish processing plant. The very same fish plant that employed a summer worker who had just died in Charlie’s Bear Claw Diner – before his order had even been delivered.

Which doesn’t let food poisoning out as a possible cause of the young man’s death – but certainly absolves the Bear Claw of any possibility of being the agency of the poison. But Ethan Johnson is still dead, his girlfriend tried to skip town and one of his friends is missing.

There’s clearly something rotten in the village of Elkview, and the advent of Charlie’s ex just adds to the stink already coming from the fish processors. Especially when the cause of death turns out to be, not food poisoning, but mercury poisoning – and mercury that was administered over a long-term at that. Mercury that could have been in the fish that was being processed. Or part of an experiment. Or some other cause yet to be determined.

The Alaska State Trooper stationed in Elkview, Cody Graham, is as overworked as he was in the first book in this series, Mousse and Murder, leading him to re-activate his gang of volunteer sleuths – a gang that includes both Charlie and the local newspaper reporter Chris Doucette.

Charlie, both with and without Chris’ assistance – but definitely more with – has to discover out what’s really going on at the secretive fish processing plant – and why so many of its summer workers are going missing, getting into trouble or ending up dead.

And figure out who is leaving Charlie threatening messages – before she ends up in the same boat!

Escape Rating B: This is turning out to be a comfort read series for me. It reminds me just enough of the Alaska I used to live in, although this is certainly a more idealized version of life in the Great State than real life. Even in Anchorage the winter weather is both long and brutal, and the feeling of isolation can be overwhelming. (January generally sucks. Period. Exclamation point.)

But the summers can be glorious, and that is portrayed very well in this second entry in the series, including the strangeness of trying to go to sleep when it’s still light out and getting to be out until midnight while it’s daylight.

So part of what I read this series for is that lovely small-town vibe with a special Alaskan flavor.

That being said, this is a cozy mystery series, and it may eventually run into the conundrum that all such series face – that the population is too small to support the number of murders that will eventually ensue. But that’s for another day, far down the road. For this one, we have students on summer jobs to provide both the corpses and the murder suspects.

This is a story where the red herrings, the many, many red herrings, are particularly tasty – and not just because they’re nestled among the absolutely mouth-watering descriptions of all the yummy things that Charlie cooks, bakes and serves at the Bear Claw Diner.

Charlie and her friends are extremely amateur sleuths. They wander down a lot of dead ends to reach the killer – who in the end reaches out for them because, well, they are so not professional about any of this.

This was a story of multiple misdirections, as none of what looked like clues in the beginning turned out to be germane in the end – at least not to the murder. Not that they didn’t uncover plenty of other skullduggery being processed along with those fish.

The identity of the murderer came a bit out of left field, and it felt like Charlie’s ex exited in that direction. We don’t get near enough clues about the real identity of the murderer or his motives, and Charlie’s EvilEx™ turned out to be a Chekhov’s Gun ex. He hung on the proverbial mantlepiece and wasn’t nearly as involved as it looked like he would be at the beginning.

On the other hand, the tentative beginnings of Charlie’s relationship with Chris became a bit less tentative over the course of the investigation, while Charlie’s frankly adorable relationship with her cat Benny continued to provide just the right amount of sweetness to this story without spoiling the story. Benny on the other hand is VERY spoiled.

In the end, this was as light and fluffy as one of the omelets served at the Bear Claw Diner. I’ll be back for another delicious treat when the author returns to this series with Murphy’s Slaw in May 2021!

~~~~~~ TOURWIDE GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

 

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Review: Peachy Scream by Anna Gerard + Giveaway

Review: Peachy Scream by Anna Gerard + GiveawayPeachy Scream (Georgia B&B #2) by Anna Gerard
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: cozy mystery, mystery
Series: Georgia B&B #2
Pages: 320
Published by Crooked Lane Books on August 11, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

To die or not to die? Georgia B&B proprietor Nina Fleet struts and frets to bring the curtain down on a Shakespearean actor's killer.
It's nothing short of inevitable that Cymbeline, GA, hosts an annual Shakespeare festival. But stage-struck Nina Fleet is about to learn that putting on an amateur theatrical production can be murder. Nina's anticipating showbiz glamour and glitz when a community Shakespearean troupe arrives for a two-week stay at her B&B. But the lights dim when she learns the company's director is her nemesis, struggling actor Harry Westcott--who still claims to be the rightful heir to Nina's elegant Queen Anne home.
Meanwhile, the troupe members are not content to leave the drama upon the stage. Accusations of infidelity and financial malfeasance make a shambles of rehearsals. And then, two days into the troupe's stay, the lead actor is found dead in Nina's formal Shakespeare garden. Murder most foul!
Worse, it seems every member of the amateur troupe has a motive--including wealthy construction company owner Marvin Jeffers, who seems to have a personal interest in Nina. But when the sheriff arrests the supposed boyfriend of the slain actor's widow, Nina suspects that the wrong troupe member is in jail. She and her trusty Australian Shepherd, Matilda, join forces (none too happily) with Harry to sleuth out the murder plot.
Will they find the real killer before someone else shuffles off this mortal coil? Find out in Anna Gerard's delightful second Georgia B&B mystery.

My Review:

The first book in this series, Peach Clobbered, was just the quintessential first book in a cozy mystery series. The location was marvelous, the characters were appropriately quirky, the dog was adorable and the mystery was properly twisty while the story had a lot of heart – and a superfluity (that’s the correct word, I looked it up) of surprisingly with-it elderly nuns.

I miss the nuns. (Now there’s a sentence I never expected to write!)

Not that Nina Fleet – and her still adorable dog Mattie – aren’t still operating the Fleet House B&B in lovely Cymbeline Georgia. And not that I still wouldn’t love to find the place that inspired it once travel is safe again.

But I miss the nuns. They brought something to the first book that isn’t present in the second one. Making Peachy Scream more of a typical cozy than one that stands head and shoulders above the rest.

The story in Peachy Scream is still plenty charming – although the murder victim certainly is not.

When Nina’s nemesis, jobbing actor Harry Westcott, returns to her B&B with a troupe of amateur Shakespeare players in tow, Nina is certain that Harry is up to something. Again.

After all, when Nina and Harry first met, it was over his lawsuit to vacate her ownership of his great-aunt’s house. The place that Nina had just bought and just started setting up as a B&B in touristy Cymbeline. Not that Nina didn’t buy the house fair and square, rather that Harry’s contention was that the seller had no rights to sell because his great-aunt promised to leave him the house in her will. Which she didn’t – or at least no such will has ever been found although I expect it to turn up at some point later in the series. (That is a guess on my part and not a spoiler. I could be totally wrong. Time will eventually tell. Hopefully.)

Still, Harry’s back and Nina’s suspicious. As she should be.

But Cymbeline, named for Shakespeare’s play, is just about to open its popular, profitable and annual Shakespeare Festival. Harry and his troupe are the contracted acting company for this year’s play, Hamlet. And every other possible place for the players to stay was booked long ago. The festival is very popular!

Which means that Nina, rightfully suspicious as she is, can’t afford to throw Harry out on his rather delectable ass. Not that she’s noticed. Much.

It’s clear to Nina from the moment that she is introduced to Harry’s troupe of players that, to quote the Bard, “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark,” or at least in the state of the company. When the man whom everybody seems to hate – including his trophy wife – turns up his toes in the middle of Nina’s Shakespeare garden, there’s a bushel of suspects, a peck of motives and no end in sight. But the show must go on.

And so must Nina’s and Harry’s reluctant collaboration in investigation. But this time, it’s not the play that’s “ the thing to uncover the conscience of the king”, it’s the play within a play within a play that catches the murderer.

Escape Rating B: Anyone who has spent their school years being endlessly compared to an older sibling or cousin and always failing to measure up will understand my reaction to Peachy Scream. I absolutely loved Peach Clobbered and picked up Peachy Scream because I was hoping for more of the same – or hopefully even better – in the second book in the series now that the setting and characters had been established.

I just didn’t realize how much of the charm of the first book was owed to the nuns. Without them, Peachy Scream doesn’t have quite the same charm. It’s still a good cozy mystery, but the nuns made the first book rise in a way that this one doesn’t.

Not that the story doesn’t have its own charms. The troupe of players, their surprisingly convoluted relationships and the almost internecine warfare amongst them certainly adds plenty of drama to a scenario that is already fraught with it. After all, these are actors – albeit amateur ones – and drama is their natural state.

The whole concept of the play within a play within a play really works here, especially as it seems completely natural for Cymbeline to host a Shakespeare Festival. It would be more of a surprise if they didn’t!

And the hidden agendas of the players make for an appropriate tipping of drama into melodrama, while the strange and strained relationship between Nina and Harry adds an element of farce.

There’s one element of the story that, while in some ways it’s done very well, in one particular aspect adds to some discomfort while reading. It was a common device in several of Shakespeare’s plays, for example in As You Like It, for the Bard to play with gender roles and gender stereotyping by having one or more female characters spend much of the play masquerading as male characters, with all of the dramatic and comedic possibilities for mistaken identities and misplaced affections on full display.

So the concept that one of the members of the troupe is a woman pretending to be a man fits right into the Shakespearean milieu that Cymbeline plays homage to with its festival.

But Nina’s reaction to discovering the possibility that the Chris that presents themselves as male may be female made for a very uncomfortable read. In 21st century terms, when this story is set, it is entirely possible that Chris is in transition rather than in disguise. Nina’s waffling about how to refer to Chris inside her own head, her seeming compulsion to hang herself up on knowing Chris’ gender felt so wrong that it literally dropped the grade of the book from a B+ to a B. The point where Harry just tells Nina to get over herself and use the gender nonspecific “they” in reference to Chris made ME heave a sigh of relief. And it should not have been necessary.

That being said, there was a lot about Peachy Scream to enjoy. The cast was even quirkier, in their own way, than the previous book. The town of Cymbeline is filled with a terrific bunch of folks, and while the Reverend Dr. Bishop, local minister, funeral home director and county coroner, wasn’t as much fun as the nuns; he was a fascinating character in his own right and I hope we see more of him in the series.

And Nina’s relationship with Harry, as weird as it already is, got even weirder at the end of the book. I’m terribly curious to see how THAT plays out in future books in the series!


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Review: Mousse and Murder by Elizabeth Logan + Giveaway

Review: Mousse and Murder by Elizabeth Logan + GiveawayMousse and Murder (Alaskan Diner Mystery #1) by Elizabeth Logan
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: cozy mystery, mystery
Series: Alaskan Diner #1
Pages: 304
Published by Berkley on May 5, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

A young chef might bite off more than she can chew when she returns to her Alaskan hometown to take over her parents' diner in this charming first installment in a new cozy mystery series set in an Alaskan tourist town.

When Chef Charlie Cooke is offered the chance to leave San Francisco and return home to Elkview, Alaska, to take over her mother's diner, she doesn't even consider saying no. After all--her love life has recently become a Love Life Crumble, and a chance to reconnect with her roots may be just what she needs.

Determined to bring fresh life and flavors to the Bear Claw Diner, Charlie starts planning changes to the menu, which has grown stale over the years. But her plans are fried when her head cook Oliver turns up dead after a bitter and public fight over Charlie's ideas--leaving Charlie as the only suspect in the case.

With her career, freedom, and life all on thin ice, Charlie must find out who the real killer is, before it's too late.

My Review:

It is more likely that the Elkview Bugle would win a Pulitzer – after all, the Anchorage Daily News just did – than it is that Charlene Cooke attended her first – and only – year of law school in Anchorage. There are no law schools in Anchorage or anywhere in Alaska.

Not that Elkview actually exists, but there are places just like it along the Glenn Highway. And in spite of some small but mostly necessary changes (I’m still niggled about the law school thing), the Alaska of Mousse and Murder reads like the place I lived in – in all of its cold, wintry “glory”.

But it was great to be back in the “Great State”, even vicariously, for a few hours, to meet the residents of Elkview and solve a perplexing mystery.

The mystery is plenty perplexing, and the red herrings it offers up are as tasty as the offerings at the Bear Claw Diner. Or perhaps that should be the other way around.

Our primary amateur detective in this one is chef and diner owner/operator Charlene Cooke. The Bear Claw is the diner that her mother owned and operated while Charlie was growing up. Charlie herself was practically raised at the counter. Now that Charlie is an accredited chef, her mother can leave the diner in Charlie’s capable hands while traveling “Outside” (that’s Alaskan for anyplace away from the state) with Charlie’s dad.

Charlie’s hands don’t feel all that capable when she and her head chef have one of their epic arguments in the middle of the diner, resulting in Chef Oliver stomping out in a huff. A fact that Charlie doesn’t reveal to her mother in their daily phone call, as mom is half a world away on a Danube cruise and Charlie doesn’t want to spoil it for her.

When Oliver turns up dead, and Charlie is briefly considered a suspect, ruining mom’s vacation is the farthest thing from anyone’s mind. Considering the state of bush policing in Alaska (the statistics Charlie cites are all too real) clearing her name and figuring out exactly who did kill Oliver – and why – shoots right to the top of Charlie’s to do list.

Charlie is determined to leave no stone unturned, and with the help of local reporter and fellow informally sworn-in deputy Chris, she uncovers a web of secrets that shows that absolutely no one really knew Oliver in spite of his decades-long tenure at the Bear Claw.

And that Oliver’s secretive past – and present – provide plenty of motives for his murder.

Escape Rating B+: If you enjoy quirky small-town mysteries, and/or mysteries featuring felines as companion animals, sounding boards and occasional sleuthing assistants, Mousse and Murder is an absolute delight. Oops, I forgot to tell you about Benny.

Benny is the feline who holds Charlie’s heart. He’s a big, fluffy orange cat whose full name is Eggs Benedict. He’s smart enough to answer to either name. He is also clearly the light of Charlie’s life, and he’s adorable. The cat he resembles most closely is Diesel in the Cat in the Stacks series, although he’s not nearly as large. Few domestic cats are.

But Diesel and Benny are both friends and companions for their humans who are the actual amateur sleuths. They are both intelligent, but on the cat scale of intelligence. (As much as I love Joe Grey, one clowder of speaking cats solving crimes is probably enough.) Part of the delight of this story is the way that Charlie loves and cares for Benny, and how much fun they have together. Benny serves as Charlie’s comforter-in-chief and best sounding board. One of the marvelous things about companion animals is that we can tell them anything and they never judge – while humans, of course, pretty much always do.

Mousse and Murder also has shades – or should that be flavors and aromas? – of Diane Mott Davidson and other wonderful culinary mysteries, including a couple of yummy looking recipes tucked into the back. In between investigations, Charlie spends plenty of time at the diner, providing readers with plenty of virtual goodies to salivate over. Remember, there are no calories in the desserts that you only read about – but you’ll be tempted to make some of these!

One of the things that is so fascinating about Alaska is that it is one of the few places where a person can still completely hide in plain sight. In our 24/7 connected world there are very few places where a person can still be part of a community AND be relatively isolated at the same time. That Oliver came to Elkview to live and work in a place where he can both be known and keep his secrets is still possible – and would have been even more so when Oliver started working at the Bear Claw when Charlie was a little girl.

What makes the story so much fun is the cast of characters who frequent the Bear Claw, both the residents of Elkview and the frequent regulars, like the truckers Manny, Moe and Joe, who stop by so often that they have their own booth. I have a feeling we’ll be meeting more of the regulars as the series continues. Based on the ones we’ve met so far, it’s going to be fun getting to know them.

But this first story is all wrapped around Charlie. Hers is the perspective we follow, and she’s an interesting and likeable protagonist, and not just because of Benny. She’s easy to relate to, her fears and insecurities make sense under the circumstances, her mistakes feel real and we want her to succeed.

We also want her to succeed in her potential romance with reporter Chris, but not too soon!

Mousse and Murder is a fun cozy mystery in an unusual setting with a great cast of characters. I did figure who probably “dunnit” fairly early on, but the why was not remotely apparent until very near the end, so that’s also a win.

I’m looking forward to more of Charlie’s adventures, and another visit to Elkview, when Charlie and Benny go Fishing for Trouble later this year.

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Review: Tell Me No Lies by Shelley Noble + Giveaway

Review: Tell Me No Lies by Shelley Noble + GiveawayTell Me No Lies (Lady Dunbridge) by Shelley Noble
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical mystery
Series: Lady Dunbridge #2
Pages: 368
Published by Forge Books on November 5, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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Miss Fisher meets Downton Abbey in Tell Me No Lies, part of the critically acclaimed Lady Dunbridge Mystery series from New York Times bestselling author Shelley Noble.

Rise and shine, Countess, you're about to have a visitor.

Lady Dunbridge was not about to let a little thing like the death of her husband ruin her social life. She's come to New York City, ready to take the dazzling world of Gilded Age Manhattan by storm. The social events of the summer have been amusing but Lady Phil is searching for more excitement---and she finds it, when an early morning visitor arrives, begging for her help. After all, Lady Phil has been known to be useful in a crisis. Especially when the crisis involves the untimely death of a handsome young business tycoon.

His death could send another financial panic through Wall Street and beyond.

With the elegant Plaza Hotel, Metropolitan Museum of Art and the opulent mansions of Long Island's Gold Coast as the backdrop, romance, murder, and scandals abound. Someone simply must do something. And Lady Dunbridge is happy to oblige.

My Review:

I picked up Tell Me No Lies because I really enjoyed the first book of Lady Dunbridge’s adventures, Ask Me No Questions. And yes, I sense a theme in those titles and I’m wondering where it goes from here. The (presumably) original Oliver Goldsmith quote, from his play She Stoops to Conquer, just say “Ask me no questions, and I’ll tell you no fibs.” Close enough.

So, here we have the delicious fun of Tell Me No Lies. And it is definitely delicious – and that’s no fib at all. And fun. Also deadly. But Lady Philomena Dunbridge, Phil to her friends and readers, is there to save the day.

Where in Ask Me No Questions Phil literally walked into the murder, and is caught in the middle of the investigation because she needs to get her friend Reggie and herself out of the frame that they have definitely been placed in, she has spent the several months since those events researching the proper procedures for conducting investigations, with the able assistance of her supposed servants, Preswick and Lily.

All in order to be of future assistance to the charming, mysterious Mr. X who is paying Phil’s rent in exchange for future investigative services – and possibly more.

Phil’s involvement with this new case is a direct result of the previous. High society in Gilded Age Manhattan is rather a tight circle, and Phil has developed a reputation for saving reputations where such is warranted. The morning after Phil’s attendance at the sparkling debut ball for debutante Agnes Pratt, Mr. Luther Pratt, the debutante’s father, appears at Phil’s door to request her immediate return to the scene of the festivities.

The corpse of one of the other guests has been found in the laundry. It’s up to Phil to figure out just how the man ended up dead, and whether the deed was done by one of the well-heeled guests or one of their respectable servants. But better a servant than a guest – especially since the guests were all important titans of banking and industry, and a scandal amongst them could precipitate a further destabilization of the volatile stock market.

Little do they know that it’s already too late for most of them to save themselves from either the investigation, the fallout, or the impending crash.

All Phil can do is make sure that only the guilty are punished for the crime. As soon as she can figure out the who, the how and most especially the why of it all. No matter how important the man who stands in her way.

Escape Rating A-: I enjoyed Tell Me No Lies every single bit as much as I did Ask Me No Questions. I absolutely adore the character of Phil, her perspective is witty and trenchant and just the right amount of cynical. That she reminds me very much of Phryne Fisher is certainly a plus.

Howsomever, I do have just a couple of quibbles. The blurbs describe this series as Miss Fisher (presumably of Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries) meets Downton Abbey. Those same blurbs also set the series in Gilded Age New York City. There’s truth in those descriptions, as well as more than a bit of hyperbole.

Also more than a hint of misdirection. This entry in the series in particular is set in late October, 1929. As the story opens, the talk of the town is that J.P. Morgan and his business associates have just attempted to stop the fall of the banks by injecting millions of dollars of their own money into the system. (This really happened.) But their efforts were doomed to fail, a fact that is fairly obvious in the background of the story.

In other words, this story takes place in the days, the very last days, before Black Tuesday, October 29, 1929, the day the stock markets fell in a crash that had been anticipated for over a month – and was certainly both feared and foreseen by the many financiers in this story.

So not actually the Gilded Age, but the glorious excess of that Gilded Age probably sounds more lively than the Great Depression. Not that this book isn’t plenty lively in spite of the shadows of doom. Phil is guaranteed to put plenty of life into any party.

Also there’s not so much of Downton Abbey here. Not just because the story is set in New York, and service in the U.S. was never nearly as entrenched as it was in Britain, but also because Phil exists between the classes. By birth she is upper class, but she is also living by her wits. She knows how the upper class thinks and functions – at least back home – but she isn’t exactly a part of it the way the Crawleys are. And certainly her two loyal retainers, the butler Preswick and the lady’s maid Lily, are much more partners-in-solving-crime than they are servants in any traditional sense.

But the strong resemblance to Miss Fisher, Miss Phryne Fisher, is definitely present. Phil and Phryne would either get along like the proverbial house on fire, or would fight like two cats over the same territory – and possibly the same men. They are very much alike in perspective and attitude.

And Phil’s handsome cop with somewhat of a stick up his ass, Detective Sergeant John Atkins, is a dead ringer for Detective Inspector John “Jack” Robinson, at least as portrayed by Nathan Page in the TV series. With zero resemblance (by either) to the same character in the book series. The flirtation between Atkins and Phil certainly furthers the likeness.

At the beginning I referred to the Oliver Goldsmith quote as the source – so far – of the titles for this series. But there’s a Lynyrd Skynard song has a few more lines that might be relevant later.

So, don’t ask me no questions
And I won’t tell you no lies
So, don’t ask me about my business
And I won’t tell you goodbye

We’ll see. Hopefully. Soon.

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Review: The Daughters of Temperance Hobbs by Katherine Howe + Giveaway

Review: The Daughters of Temperance Hobbs by Katherine Howe + GiveawayThe Daughters of Temperance Hobbs by Katherine Howe
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, women's fiction
Series: Physick Book #2
Pages: 338
Published by Henry Holt and Co. on June 25, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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New York Times bestselling author Katherine Howe returns to the world of The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane with a bewitching story of a New England history professor who must race against time to free her family from a curseConnie Goodwin is an expert on America’s fractured past with witchcraft. A young, tenure-track professor in Boston, she’s earned career success by studying the history of magic in colonial America—especially women’s home recipes and medicines—and by exposing society's threats against women fluent in those skills. But beyond her studies, Connie harbors a secret: She is the direct descendant of a woman tried as a witch in Salem, an ancestor whose abilities were far more magical than the historical record shows.

When a hint from her mother and clues from her research lead Connie to the shocking realization that her partner’s life is in danger, she must race to solve the mystery behind a hundreds’-years-long deadly curse.

Flashing back through American history to the lives of certain supernaturally gifted women, The Daughters of Temperance Hobbs affectingly reveals not only the special bond that unites one particular matriarchal line, but also explores the many challenges to women’s survival across the decades—and the risks some women are forced to take to protect what they love most.

My Review:

“The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.” If that sounds familiar, that’s because those are the words written on James and Lily Potter’s tombstone. Or, if your reading trends in an entirely different direction, it’s a line in the 15th chapter of the First Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians.

Considering the story in The Daughters of Temperance Hobbs, the Harry Potter reference is more appropriate. Because Temperance Hobbs and all of her mothers and daughters in every generation up to and including Connie Goodwin in the here and now, were all “cunning women”. In other words, they were witches. Sorta/kinda. More or less.

Howsomever, Connie doesn’t actually want to defeat death, she just wants to postpone the bout with him until a much later date. Because Connie is caught on the horns of a familial dilemma that she wasn’t prepared for in any way, shape, or form.

In all the generations of her family, all the way back to Deliverance Dane in the 1690s, there has been one constant in their lives. They can have a husband – or they can have a child – but they can’t have both at the same time. Or at least not for very long.

Whether it’s really terrible luck or a truly horrific curse, in each generation, as soon as they have a child, their husbands die. Of accidents. Natural causes. War. Being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

One after another after another.

But Connie Goodwin is more than just an occasional practitioner. She is also an academic specializing in American History of the Colonial Period, with a particular emphasis on the belief in, practice of, and suppression of witchcraft.

She did her Ph.D. thesis on The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane, and her adventures in producing that thesis and exploring the world and practices of her ancestress are detailed in the novel of the same name.

She’s already pregnant. She just doesn’t want to lose her lover, the father of her child, to any force other than the hands of time – a long, long time from now.

Connie is sure that somewhere or somewhen in her family tree, at least one woman found a way around the curse. Connie just has to discover that secret for herself, before it’s too late.

Escape Rating A-: I did read The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane, back when it came out ten years ago. I remember it being a terrific time slip book, but I do not remember the details. I didn’t need to in order to enjoy The Daughters of Temperance Hobbs – but enjoy it I certainly did.

The events of that first book are 10 years in Connie’s past as well as ours. I want to say that her life has moved on, but technically I’m not sure that’s true. She is every bit as driven and tunnel-visioned as an Assistant Professor seeking tenure as she was as a grad student seeking a Ph.D.

She’s still a hamster on her wheel, unable to see anything except what’s right in front of her. And what’s right in front of her is always more work. The description of the paper chase of academic life rings true – and makes the reader wonder how Sam has managed to be so tolerant and so supportive for so long.

We’re not surprised that he’s reaching the end of his rope.

But Connie’s discovery that she is pregnant changes her focus in ways well beyond the obvious. She’s worried about the effect it will have on her still-fledgling career – but she fears that their child means Sam’s imminent death – and history bears her out. And she finally figures out that she doesn’t want to lose Sam, and that she needs to find some balance between her work and her life – because they are not, and should not be, the same thing all the time.

Connie begins researching at a furious and desperate pace, hoping to discover that at least one of her ancestresses beat the curse – and how she did it. The portrayal of how the research is conducted, the long hours of fruitless searching, the despair of reaching dead ends and the joy of discovery, sucks the reader right in – as do the interlude chapters told from the perspective of the women that Connie finds in her search.

Connie’s race against time, her race to save her soon-to-be-husband Sam, provides all the tension this story needs. There was an attempt to add a more human villain to the mix, but it didn’t quite work for me. This person wasn’t present enough or woven into the narrative enough to make that concept gel for me – and the story didn’t need it.

Connie’s race against time and death – just like Temperance Hobbs’ before her – provided all the drama needed – along with plenty of compulsion to keep the reader in a race to get to the very last page.

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Review: Peach Clobbered by Anna Gerard + Giveaway

Review: Peach Clobbered by Anna Gerard + GiveawayPeach Clobbered: A Georgia B&B Mystery by Anna Gerard
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: cozy mystery, mystery
Series: Georgia B&B Mystery #1
Pages: 320
Published by Crooked Lane Books on July 9, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

What’s black and white and dead all over? Georgia bed and breakfast proprietor Nina Fleet finds out when she comes across a corpse in a penguin costume.

Nina Fleet’s life ought to be as sweet as a Georgia peach. Awarded a tidy sum in her divorce, Nina retired at 41 to a historic Queen Anne house in quaint Cymbeline, GA. But Nina’s barely settled into her new B&B-to-be when a penguin shows up on her porch. Or, at least, a man wearing a penguin suit.

Harry Westcott is making ends meet as an ice cream shop’s mascot and has a letter from his great-aunt, pledging to leave him the house. Too bad that’s not what her will says. Meanwhile, the Sisters of Perpetual Poverty have lost their lease. Real estate developer Gregory Bainbridge intends to turn the convent into a golfing community, so Cymbeline’s mayor persuades Nina to take in the elderly nuns. And then Nina finds the “penguin” again, this time lying in an alley with a kitchen knife in his chest.

A peek under the beak tells Nina it’s not Harry inside the costume, but Bainbridge. What was he doing in Harry’s penguin suit? Was the developer really the intended victim, or did the culprit mean to kill Harry? Whoever is out to stop Harry from contesting the sale of his great-aunt’s house may also be after Nina, so she teams up with him to cage the killer before someone clips her wings in Peach Clobbered, Anna Gerard’s charming first Georgia B&B mystery.

My Review:

I want to know where Cymbeline is – because it sounds like a great place to visit that would only be a hop, skip and a jump from my home in the Atlanta exurbs. And we all need a quiet place to escape to every once in a while.

Not that things are really quiet in tiny Cymbeline – especially not for Nina Fleet.

Nina would love to open a B&B in her newly acquired Victorian house, but there are roadblocks a-plenty in her way, including plenty of B&Bs that beat her to the punch. As much of a tourist mecca as Cymbeline has become, no place needs an infinite number of inns – until a sudden influx of displaced nuns gives the mayor a reason to fast-track Nina’s application.

Opening an instant B&B isn’t the only problem that Nina has to contend with. She bought her house legally, fair-and-square, cash on the barrel-head, etc., etc., etc. And she absolutely loves it. But Harry Westcott, the nephew of the late owner of Nina’s house, believes that he is the rightful owner of the property – and he’ll see her in court.

The worst part for Nina is that he might be. He probably isn’t, but there’s an off chance. Not that Nina did anything wrong in her purchase, but that the seller might not have had the right to sell in the first place. She’d get all her money back, but she really, really, really just wants the house. In a few short months, it’s become home.

Between Harry and the nuns, Nina seems to have her hands full. They only get fuller when a local property developer is killed while wearing Harry’s penguin suit. How that translates to Harry becoming a suspect in his murder is anybody’s guess, considering that Harry may be one of the few people in town who didn’t have a motive.

Including the nuns.

Nina can’t resist poking her curious nose into the affairs of her neighbors, and the murder of the least liked among them. And she can’t help but band together with Harry and the nuns when they are all under threat.

When they set a trap to catch the killer, the tables get turned. It’s up to the nuns to save the day!

Escape Rating A-: This was just a load of fun from beginning to end, from Harry’s first appearance in the penguin suit right up to his driving off into the sunset at the end, with the murder resolved but the ownership of the B&B still very much up in the air – along with Nina and Harry’s completely unresolved potentially romantic and currently contentious relationship.

Their “relationship” begins with a fairly twisted meet cute. Harry arrives on Nina’s doorstep, suffering from heat stroke (all too plausible with our hot, muggy Georgia summers) while wearing a penguin costume. Which isn’t helping with the heat stroke. Clutching an envelope in his hand that he believes proves his rights to own Nina’s house.

Watching the ebbs and flows of their always just-one-tick-away-from-mutually-assured-destruction relationship is always fun. They want to like each other. They want to trust each other. It’s entirely possible that they have the hots for each other. And they want to destroy each other’s claim to the house they both love.

And they need each other to solve the murder, just adding to the fraught possibilities.

The nuns, on the other hand, are surprisingly delightful from beginning to end. They are the perfect opening guests for Nina’s B&B, even if their reason for landing in her lap (so to speak) is pretty awful. And directly relates to their possible motive for killing that hateful real estate developer.

He’s the one who evicted them from their home and business. Most of the nuns have been together, making excellent cheese and saying their prayers, for 50 years together. With the loss of their convent and fromagerie, the archdiocese plans to retire them to separate communities. They are broken-hearted at the thought of losing their family-of-choice.

And absolutely perfect guests. Also surprisingly with the 21st century for a group of elderly semi-cloistered nuns. Their customers have kept them firmly rooted in the now – to Nina’s surprise, and to the detriment of the killer stalking Cymbeline.

This is definitely a cozy mystery, as it’s wonderfully light-hearted – even if it does feature a dead body – albeit a dead body in a borrowed penguin suit.

Nina’s exploration of the town in her process of eliminating would-be suspects introduces readers to all of the residents of this quirky little place. Even if she does go off the track of whodunnit on more than one occasion. Or perhaps especially because. And I went right there with her. I didn’t guess this one at all.

As Peach Clobbered reads like the first book in a series, I’m looking forward to reading Nina’s (and hopefully Harry’s) future adventures. And definitely getting to know the denizens of Cymbeline a whole lot better.

~~~~~~ TOURWIDE GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

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Review: The Alchemist of Lost Souls by Mary Lawrence + Giveaway

Review: The Alchemist of Lost Souls by Mary Lawrence + GiveawayThe Alchemist of Lost Souls (Bianca Goddard Mysteries, #4) by Mary Lawrence
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: historical mystery
Series: Bianca Goddard #4
Pages: 320
Published by Kensington Publishing Corporation on April 30, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

A dangerous element discovered by Bianca Goddard's father falls into the wrong hands . . . leading to a chain of murders. Spring 1544 Now that she is with child, Bianca is more determined than ever to distance herself from her unstable father. Desperate to win back the favor of King Henry VIII, disgraced alchemist Albern Goddard plans to reveal a powerful new element he's discovered--one with deadly potential. But when the substance is stolen, he implores his daughter to help.

Soon after, a woman's body is found behind the Dim Dragon Inn, an eerie green vapor rising from her mouth. Bianca has reason to suspect her own mother may be involved in the theft and the murder. When her husband John is conscripted into King Henry's army to subdue Scottish resistance, finding the stone becomes a matter of life and death. Bianca must unravel the interests of alchemists, apothecaries, chandlers, and scoundrels--to find out who among them is willing to kill to possess the element known as lapis mortem, the stone of death . . .

Praise for The Alchemist of Lost Souls "Atmospheric...Fans of Tudor historicals will eagerly await the next installment."--Publishers Weekly

Praise for Death at St. Vedast "Full of period details, Lawrence's latest series outing captures Tudor London in all its colorful splendor. A solid choice for devotees of Elizabethan mysteries."--Library Journal

Praise for Death of an Alchemist "A must read!" --RT Reviews

"Colorful alchemical lore and vividly imagined..." --Publishers Weekly

Praise for The Alchemist's Daughter A Night Owls Reviews Top Pick Suspense Magazine Best Historical Mystery 2015

"A complex plot and likeable cast of characters" --Historical Novel Society

My Review:

This is the fourth book in the Bianca Goddard series, and I picked it up because I read and enjoyed the recreation of Tudor England in the first two books in the series, The Alchemist’s Daughter and Death of an Alchemist. How and why I managed to miss the third book, Death at St. Vedast, I have no idea, but it’s an omission I certainly plan to rectify!

Although this series takes place among people who are living at the bottom of the economic pile, the actions of those at the top still affect the lives of Bianca, her husband John, and her father Albern in ways that never work to their benefit.

Once upon a time Albern Goddard was a respected alchemist in the employ of the king. The respectability of alchemy, while not laughable as it is today, was more than a bit dubious even in the mid 16th century when this story is set.

Albern’s fame and fortunes have considerably dwindled – not that his attitudes towards his wife, his daughter, or the people he lives among have come down even in the slightest. He thinks he’s better and smarter than everyone else looking down his nose at everyone around him, including his family.

And certainly his fellow practitioners of the so-called noble art.

His daughter Bianca, on the other hand, is both a decent brewer of medicinals and a decent judge of human beings. Including her parents. That she lives in an unsavory part of London and practices among those even poorer than herself provides further fuel for her father’s contempt. And that’s in spite of the fact that Bianca has pulled his nuts, literally and figuratively, out of the fire more than once.

Which doesn’t stop either Albern Goddard nor the local sheriff from enlisting her aid. Albern when a precious compound is stolen, and the sheriff when the woman who ended up with it in her possession is murdered.

But the parallel investigations into the theft from her father and the murder that seems to have been its result are not the only problems plaguing Bianca.

Because it is 1544 and Henry VIII plans on one final campaign against England’s perennial enemy, the French. He intends it to be a glorious victory. All that Bianca knows is that her husband has been caught up in the conscription for a war that seems more foolhardy than glorious. Whether he will return in time to see the child she carries – even whether he will return at all – is in the hands, or whims, of a capricious fate.

Escape Rating B+: This is a historical series where the reader kicks the offal, smells the smells, and feels more than a hint of the brutality of life on society’s lowest rungs of the ladder. In that, it resembles the Crispin Guest series by Jeri Westerson, the Thieftaker Chronicles by D.B. Jackson and the Kate Clifford series by Candace Robb.

This is not a pretty view of Tudor England, but one that is biting and raw. Bianca’s circumstances force her to make her living in an area known for its poverty, crime and lawlessness. It’s a world where her father has not only the right but the duty to beat her, in spite of her being an adult living away from his household, and where she is grateful that her husband does not do his duty to beat her as well.

And it is also a period where what we would now label superstition is accepted as fact, and where the worlds of magic and spiritualism lie much closer to everyday life. Which explains the common beliefs in alchemy, as well as nearly everything about the title character of this story, the being known as the Rat Man, who has spent centuries plying the waterways of the Thames and looking for the alchemical element he once created in an attempt to grant eternal life. An element that seems to have only granted him eternal damnation.

He is watching Bianca, in the hopes that she can somehow lead him to the final end that he longs for. And that she will not pay for his death with her own.

But the Rat Man is a shadowy figure, existing mostly on the fringes of this story. It is Bianca that we focus on, and it is her search for the truth, even the truths that she does not want to face, that moves us. While her circumstances may be removed in place and time, the intelligence, deductive reasoning and sheer stubbornness that she uses to achieve her aims are traits that 21st century readers can certainly empathize with – and follow.

~~~~~~ TOURWIDE GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

The author is giving away signed paperback copies of The Alchemist of Lost Souls to two lucky participants in this tour!

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