Review: The Crepes of Wrath by Sarah Fox

Review: The Crepes of Wrath by Sarah FoxThe Crêpes of Wrath (A Pancake House Mystery #1) by Sarah Fox
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley, Random House Chatterbox
Formats available: ebook
Genres: cozy mystery, mystery
Series: Pancake House #1
Pages: 240
Published by Alibi on August 16th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

In the debut of a delightful cozy mystery series, Sarah Fox introduces a charming new heroine who finds herself in a sticky situation: stacking pancakes, pouring coffee, and investigating murder.
When Marley McKinney’s aging cousin, Jimmy, is hospitalized with pneumonia, she agrees to help run his pancake house while he recovers. With its rustic interior and syrupy scent, the Flip Side Pancake House is just as she pictured it—and the surly chef is a wizard with crêpes. Marley expects to spend a leisurely week or two in Wildwood Cove, the quaint, coastal community where she used to spend her summers, but then Cousin Jimmy is found murdered, sprawled on the rocks beneath a nearby cliff.
After she stumbles across evidence of stolen goods in Jimmy’s workshop, Marley is determined to find out what’s really going on in the not-so-quiet town of Wildwood Cove. With help from her childhood crush and her adopted cat, Flapjack, Marley sinks her teeth into the investigation. But if she’s not careful, she’s going to get burned by a killer who’s only interested in serving up trouble.

My Review:

This is a very cute start to a new cozy mystery series. On the one hand, it’s a bit light and fluffy, sort of like the pancakes at The Flip Side Pancake House. On that other hand, the red herrings are savory enough to be served at one of the dinner options in beautiful Wildwood Cove.

The story starts out a bit in the middle, but in a good way. As events begin, Marley McKinney is taking a vacation from her job in Seattle by covering for her cousin Jimmy at his pancake place while Jimmy is recovering from pneumonia in the hospital. We don’t need to see Jimmy get sick or Marley go through her decision process about helping Jimmy out. By the time we meet Marley, she is starting to think about what she’ll do when Jimmy gets out of the hospital and back on his feet. And we see that the residents of Wildwood Cove and the regulars at The Flip Side have taken her into their hearts.

Jimmy is more her mother’s cousin than hers, and Marley has very, very fond memories of visiting Jimmy and his late wife, Grace, when Marley was young. After Grace’s death, the visits tapered off, but Marley and her mother still kept in touch with Jimmy. He was one of the few relatives they have left – and he seems to have been a really nice guy.

Past tense. Because the mystery that Marley takes it upon herself to solve is the mystery of who killed Jimmy, a man that nearly everyone in the small community seems to have loved. Jimmy’s death is tied into a second mystery – who stashed stolen goods in Jimmy’s generally unused shed?

As Marley pokes her nose into places it really doesn’t belong, we get to know the good people (and the bad people) of Wildwood Cove. While Marley spent her childhood summers here, the world has moved on and there are lots of new people in this little coastal town. Some of whom are lovely, and some of whom are, as the old saying goes, “no better than they ought to be” but in different ways.

Marley is left trying to pick through the pieces of what Jimmy left behind, and what Jimmy might have been into that could have caused his death. When the news gets out that Marley inherits both the house and the restaurant, the buzzards start circling. Some want the house, some want the business, and some just want to take back anything incriminating that might be left in Jimmy’s house.

It’s up to Marley to help the police figure out which of the many frightening events, home invasions and business break-ins have to do with Jimmy’s death and which are just their own separate nastiness.

All the while trying to figure out what her own future should be. Should she keep the home and business she has come to love – even though she knows nothing about running a restaurant and has a life back in Seattle? Or should she go back to the city, knowing that she is leaving her heart behind/

And will she have to die before she gets everything figured out?

Escape Rating B+: I think this may be one of those series where if you fall in love with the people and the place, it just works. Wildwood Cove feels like a nice place to visit, and I wouldn’t mind living there. But like every small town, at least in fiction, not every person is a gem and not everyone is someone you would want as your neighbor.

Marley is an interesting heroine because her life is completely in flux. The longer she stays at Jimmy’s and runs The Flip Side for him the more she sees how hollow and lonely her life is in Seattle. She has few connections back in the city that she misses or that miss her, while in Wildwood Cove nearly everyone has become connected to her, through the pancake house if not in other ways. She’ll be missed when she goes back to the city.

Jimmy’s death changes her life. Not just because she feels compelled to investigate that death, but because Jimmy leaves her his house, his restaurant, and most of his rather significant accumulated savings. He knew that Wildwood Cove was where her heart belonged, and he gave her enough resources to make that very nebulous dream come true. She feels both incredibly grateful and terribly guilty. She always cared, but didn’t see nearly as much of him as she feels she should have. Especially now that he is gone.

Those childhood summers were clearly the highlight of her life. It feels like the icing on a very yummy cake when her childhood crush turns up at her door, all grown up and much, much handsomer than she imagined he could grow up to be. And he’s a big part of her dilemma. She wants the chance to explore what they might have as adults, but giving up her life in Seattle for a whole lot of uncertainties is a big step that she quite reasonably isn’t ready to take, especially in the midst of all the upheaval.

Again, on my other hand, the sheer number and depth of the tragedies that Marley experienced in her past felt a bit like “piling on”. They felt over-the-top and they didn’t seem to be a big part of the baggage she was carrying, at least for the depth of the tragedies. But it may be a building block for the next book. We’ll see.

And then there’s the mystery. Or rather, mysteries. Jimmy was murdered. There has been a rash of home invasion robberies up and down the coast, and some of the stolen goods were stashed in Jimmy’s shed. Someone breaks into The Flip Side after hours, and there are multiple break-ins at Jimmy’s house. Some of this rash of crimes is probably connected, but which parts?

Although Jimmy was almost universally liked, there’s a difference between almost and universally. His neighbor wanted to drive him out of his house, so he can bulldoze it and turn it into another post-modern monstrosity. Jimmy’s supposed ex-ladyfriend wants to strip the house of all of Jimmy’s valuables that aren’t nailed down. And someone is trying to run Marley off the road, out of business and out of town.

Figuring out which crimes are connected and which are coincidental keeps the reader, and Marley, guessing until the very end. And that’s a great thing for a mystery. I am very, very curious to see how Marley and this series get on in book 2, For Whom the Bread Rolls.

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Review: Maggie Dove by Susan Breen

Review: Maggie Dove by Susan BreenMaggie Dove: A Mystery by Susan Breen
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley, Random House Chatterbox
Formats available: ebook
Genres: cozy mystery
Pages: 236
Published by Alibi on June 14th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

Susan Breen introduces a charming new series heroine in this poignant and absorbing cozy mystery with a bite. Maggie Dove thinks everyone in her small Westchester County community knows everyone else’s secrets. Then murder comes to town.
When Sunday School teacher Maggie Dove finds her hateful next-door neighbor Marcus Bender lying dead under her beloved oak tree—the one he demanded she cut down—she figures the man dropped dead of a mean heart. But Marcus was murdered, and the prime suspect is a young man Maggie loves like a son. Peter Nelson was the worst of Maggie’s Sunday School students; he was also her late daughter’s fiancé, and he’s been a devoted friend to Maggie in the years since her daughter’s death.
Maggie can’t lose Peter, too. So she sets out to find the real murderer. To do that, she must move past the grief that has immobilized her all these years. She must probe the hidden corners of her little village on the Hudson River. And, when another death strikes even closer to home, Maggie must find the courage to defend the people and the town she loves—even if it kills her.

My Review:

If this cozy mystery were any cozier, it would knit itself a sweater. Or perhaps crochet an afghan. And as much as I occasionally love a good cozy (Marty Wingate’s Potting Shed AND Birds of a Feather series for example) this one just didn’t work for me.

In spite of the contemporary setting, there’s something slightly old-fashioned about both the heroine and the story. Although the story isn’t strictly first person singular, it is definitely written from protagonist Maggie Dove’s point of view. And a lot of the time her point of view is small and self-absorbed.

I don’t mean that Maggie is vain or egotistical. But her daughter died 20 years ago in an automobile accident, and Maggie has isolated herself in her house and her small town and her grief, and hasn’t ever moved on. Neither has her daughter’s boyfriend Peter, who was luckily thrown from that car all those years ago.

Peter is now the Assistant Police Chief, and in very big trouble. First a hated villager dies on Maggie’s lawn. Then a beloved old woman, and Maggie’s best friend, dies in a nursing home, both of the same cause – an overdose of Ecstasy that Peter has easy access to. And a substance that has gotten him in trouble before.

Maggie finally shakes herself out of her 20 year depression in order to prove Peter’s innocence, because he’s too sunk into his own morass of despond to take care of his own business his own self. But then that’s part of what his and Maggie’s functions are in each other’s lives. They take care of each other and they keep the memory of the late, lamented Juliet alive. So that neither of them has to move on.

Until Maggie is forced to make an irrevocable choice – either to surrender to the same forces that brought her best friend down, or to step forward and finally make something of the rest of her life.

Escape Rating C: This book is very slow going, right up until the end, then it’s a race for the finish. It’s also very clearly the setup for a series, as Maggie takes the entire book to make us wallow in her grief and passivity, introduce us to her town and her friends (and frenemies) and finally, finally get up and move on.

Maggie is a terribly nice person, but she also congratulates herself on her niceness just a bit too much, and beats herself up unmercifully when she acts or even merely feels human.

Also, part of Maggie’s persona and her self-judgement revolves around her faith and her attachment to her church and its activities. She’s been a Sunday School teacher there for years, and that has clearly provided a sense of stability and a circle of friends. Her faith is very important to her, and she thinks about it often. So often, in fact, that readers who are not expecting this story to have an inspirational tinge to it may wonder what they have wandered into.

But about the mystery. One of the things that is done well in this story is to peel back all the layers of everyone in this small town. No one is quite what they appear to be, and Maggie has been oblivious to much of what lies beneath the surface for many years. The investigation that she throws herself into is a big and much needed wake up call.

As far as the murderer goes, the author manages to scatter an entire net full of red herrings, and I did nibble at most of them. In the end, I figured out whodunnit right about the same time Maggie did, and only because there were no other suspects left. The author leads us readers on quite the chase. The last 10% wraps things up at a furious pace as Maggie and the reader finally see what has been successfully hiding in plain sight all along.

Review: Death at a Fixer-Upper by Sarah T. Hobart

Review: Death at a Fixer-Upper by Sarah T. HobartDeath at a Fixer-Upper: A Home Sweet Home Mystery by Sarah Hobart
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley, Random House Chatterbox
Formats available: ebook
Genres: cozy mystery, mystery
Series: Home Sweet Home
Pages: 267
Published by Alibi on May 17th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

In Sarah T. Hobart’s wickedly funny and fast-paced Home Sweet Home mystery series, small-town real estate agent Sam Turner discovers it’s bad for business when her clients keep dropping dead.   Newly armed with her real estate license, Sam Turner loves Arlinda, her quirky seaside hometown in Northern California. But life by the beach isn’t exactly a breeze: She and her teenage son, Max, are being evicted from their apartment, her long absent ex-husband unexpectedly resurfaces, and her possibly romantic relationship with sexy Chief of Police Bernie Aguilar is, well . . . complicated. All Sam wants is a quick and easy sale. What she gets instead is a killer headache—or three.   Sam’s trying to drum up interest in 13 Aster Lane, a rambling Victorian fixer-upper that’s more than a little neglected—and possibly haunted—so when a trio of offers arrive out of the blue, she can’t help thinking it’s too good to be true. But after a new client drops dead on the property, she fears she’s lost more than a commission. Before Sam’s out of house and home, she must unmask a killer targeting her clients, or the only property she’ll be moving will be plots—at the local cemetery.

My Review:

This was one of those books where I’m still trying to figure out what I think and how I feel about it. I finished it last night and I’ll admit that it isn’t sticking with me. This is not a good sign.

The story certainly had possibilities. Single-mother Sam Turner is a fledgling real estate agent in what sounds like a down market, so the story felt a bit dated, as though it was set in the recession. The housing market has picked up the last couple of years, and it feels like we are now in a sellers’ market, so Sam’s lack of success didn’t feel current, especially given the description of Arlinda as a quirky if desirable place to live.

The house she is trying to sell is equally quirky, not to mention downright creepy. Did the address have to be 13 Aster Lane? Couldn’t it have been 15? Or 12? As events kept spiraling into the weird, it seemed as if the address was either intended as a portent or was just too much over the top. And in spite of the opening of the story, there is not a paranormal element in it.

This is also a small town with a lot of interesting (again, read that as quirky) characters, and it felt as if we met ALL of them.

The word “quirky” comes up a lot in descriptions of and reviews of this book. You would think that there would be some relatively normal, meaning non-quirky, people in this town. But that doesn’t seem to be the case.

It also seems as if Sam is just one of those people to whom bad things happen, not always with any rhyme or reason. Her neighbors spy on her, her landlord hates her, the appraiser for her upcoming house purchase rules against her, and most of her colleagues in the real estate business are just plain nasty pieces of work.

In a twist, her boss is actually a nice guy. But everyone else she has to deal with regarding the sale of 13 Aster Lane is just nasty. She has rivals both at her own agency and at the listing agency, and both women are just unreasonably bitchy.

The mystery in this book surrounds that estate at 13 Aster Lane. For reasons that Sam doesn’t figure out until the very end, all sorts of strange and bizarre people are interested in the broken-down mansion, sight unseen. And Sam keeps tripping over the dead bodies of all of those potential purchasers.

It all seems very bizarrely coincidental, until a figure out of her own wacky past turns up out of the seeming blue. And then she discovers that she’s been played all along.

Escape Rating C-: I never warmed up to Sam. In the story, it always seems like she’s in way over her head, which can make things interesting. However, she takes that “over her head” feeling and spends a lot of time feeling sorry for herself, and/or letting other people walk all over her.

Ironically, the deed that most of her fellow real estate agents, those of the cutthroat variety, would most laugh at her for is the one that reaps her the biggest reward at the end.

But the world of real estate that Sam is attempting to inhabit is not a good place, not for her, not for anyone. And she’s mostly unsuccessful in a realm where you have to support yourself on commissions and not salary. She’s not managing and not rethinking. And letting herself be run over by bitches on wheels. In one case, almost literally.

This was also a story where there were two sets of villains, each more unlikely than the other, and both equally out of left field. While the reader always suspects that there is something hinky about all of the sudden offers on the very dilapidated property, and that none of the prospective buyers are remotely on the up and up, the degree to which the solution comes out of nowhere was a bit breathtaking.

And the other piece of villainy was completely out of the blue.

I received this book from NetGalley via Random House Chatterbox for an honest review. Which is turning out to be a review that says I honestly didn’t like this book very much. While I loved the first book I received through this program, The Skeleton Garden by Marty Wingate, that was a book in a series I had previously read and enjoyed. The second book, Mug Shot by Caroline Fardig, was okay but not as good as the Wingate. This one continues the downward trend, and I’m rethinking my entire participation in the Chatterbox.

Reviewer’s Note: In the process of prepping this post I discovered that the author has published at least two previous books in this series under another name. That explains why it seems like we’re meeting Sam in the middle of her mess rather than being introduced to her. But I am even less thrilled that this is the third book in a series and that the marketing makes it seem like the first book. Your mileage may vary.

Review: Mug Shot by Caroline Fardig

Review: Mug Shot by Caroline FardigMug Shot by Caroline Fardig
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley, Random House Chatterbox
Formats available: ebook
Genres: cozy mystery, mystery
Series: Java Jive #2
Pages: 292
Published by Alibi on April 19th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

Former musician Juliet Langley has barely had a day off since taking over management of the coffeehouse owned by her best friend, Pete Bennett. But there's always more to be done—such as prepping for the annual Holiday 5K Race organized by Pete's snobby socialite girlfriend, Cecilia Hollingsworth. This year, Java Jive has a booth right at the finish line, and since Juliet and Cecilia don't always see eye to eye, everything has to be perfect. Nothing can go wrong. Nothing . . . like Juliet stumbling over Cecilia's dead body on the morning of the race.
When Pete is arrested for Cecilia's murder, Juliet sets out to clear his name. She'll do whatever it takes—even if it means standing up to the police, her ex-boyfriend, and the grande dames of Nashville. But there isn't enough espresso in the world for the greatest challenge in her path: infiltrating Nashville's high society to uncover the hidden hotbed of scandal without running afoul of the law herself. With her last dime staked on Pete's bail bond and her staff growing jittery, the last thing Juliet needs is for her trademark temper to land her behind bars. As time drips away, Juliet needs to crack this case before the killer comes back for another shot.

My Review:

If you crossed Goldy Schulz from Diana Mott Davidson’s Goldy Bear Culinary Mysteries with Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum, you’d get someone like Juliet Langley from Mug Shot. And that’s definitely a mixed blessing.

Like Goldy, Juliet seems to get involved in solving mysteries because someone near and dear to her (or her own self) gets accused of murder. And of course the police focus on someone that Juliet is just sure can’t be guilty. Also like Goldy, Juliet’s life and her mysteries revolve around a food establishment. In Juliet’s case, that establishment is the Java Jive, the cafe she manages for her best friend Pete Bennett.

Like Stephanie Plum, Juliet is more than a bit hapless as well as rather klutzy. However, unlike Stephanie, Juliet has no pretensions to being a profession crime solver, crime stopper, or investigator of any kind. Juliet gets caught in the middle trying to save a friend. Her involvement always begins as an accident. She’s not supposed to be any good at it, where Stephanie Plum, if she were as inept a bail bonds investigator as she appears, would be dead several times over by now.

Not that Juliet doesn’t put herself in more than enough danger to get herself killed, but it’s not her job. If she’s bad at it, it is less of a suspension of disbelief.

death before decaf by caroline fardigAlso, unfortunately like Stephanie, it looks like Juliet is caught in the midst of a romantic triangle. She’s falling for the cop who frequently rescues her, Ryder Hamilton, in spite of his having lied to her in the first book (Death Before Decaf) when he was undercover. It is a somewhat fraught relationship.

On that other hand, Jessica has always been more than a little in love with her best friend Pete, and definitely vice versa. But they have been friends so long, and their friendship is so much a part of their lives, that they are both afraid that if they try for more, they’ll end up ruining the most important relationship they have.

But their closeness doesn’t leave a lot of room for either of them to become seriously involved with a significant other.

So when Pete’s current attempt at a significant other ends up murdered, Pete is the prime suspect. His socialite fiance, Cecilia Hollingsworth, is, quite frankly, a bitch. But she is also pregnant with someone else’s child, and too many people heard Pete and Cecilia arguing just before she was killed and left in a crime scene that naturally has Pete’s fingerprints all over it, as well as his DNA in the victim.

The cops are almost sure it must be Pete. But Juliet is equally sure that Pete is incapable of murder. And there are an awful lot of awful people who benefit an awful lot from Cecilia’s oh-so-convenient death.

It’s up to Juliet to keep Pete out of jail and suss out the real killer before she becomes the next victim.

Escape Rating B: I have mixed feelings about this book. It was fun and fast, but at the same time, it felt too much like too many other books I’ve read. If you haven’t read one of the food-related mystery series like Goldy Bear, and haven’t read Stephanie Plum, or really, really enjoyed Stephanie Plum, you’ll probably find this book to be a treat.

For this reader, it was an okay read but didn’t shine in comparison to some of its antecedents. And I’ll confess, Juliet’s “torn between two lovers” thing reminded me way too much of Stephanie Plum’s indecision between Morelli and Ranger.

However, on the plus side, the author does a very good job of catching readers new to the series up to current events. I didn’t even realize that there was a previous book in the series, and didn’t feel the lack of context that one so often does in this situation. So if this is your cup of coffee, it will taste good even if you haven’t tasted the previous book.

As mysteries go, I didn’t figure out whodunnit until Juliet did. There were oodles of red herrings in this story, and they all dangled very enticingly. While the usual rule applies, “Who Benefits?” there were so many people that benefited from Cecilia’s death that it was amazing that she lived as long as she did. She was worth more dead than alive to a whole lot of people, and she was a nasty bitch into the bargain. She won’t be missed.

If you like your coffee, and your mysteries, with a lot of froth on top, Mug Shot might just tickle your taste buds.