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Monthly Archives: April 2018

Expiration Date–cook-off contest ends badly

Expiration Date

by Devon Delaney

Expiration DateI don’t think I ever fully understood the term “foodie” until I read Devon Delaney’s Expiration Date, the story of six finalists in a cook-off sponsored by an organic foods corporation. Sherry Frazzelle and her sister Marla are two of the finalists. One of the three chef judges dies immediately after tasting Sherry’s stuffed pork tenderloin.

Although there is a definite mystery at the core of this book, there is almost no part of the story that doesn’t involve food. At first I thought the food figures of speech like “She overheard audience opinions being dished out like coleslaw at a barbecue” were cute and well-played. They are indeed inventive and well-written. At some point, however, it is just overdone—especially when characters totally unconnected to the food industry begin using them. Another feature that is perhaps overused is Sherry’s father’s favorite sayings.

There are sufficient twists and turns in the plot to keep the reader’s interest, but there is a huge jump in believability in the final scene. The setting is intentionally made dark to enhance the scariness factor, but there is no rationale given for why the character chooses to live that way and why the cook-off finalists would venture into that setting.

If you are a foodie who likes cozy mysteries, you will love this book. Otherwise just approach it as an opportunity for a diverting afternoon and enjoy.

I would like to extend my thanks to and to Kensington Books for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 4/5

Category: Mystery

Notes:  #1 in the Cook-Off Mystery Series

Publication:   April 24, 2018—Kensington Books

Memorable Lines:

People were weaving around each other, like the latticework crust created by bakers to top the best fruit pies.

She tried to lift the throbbing arm, but it was as difficult as peeling a butternut squash.

You’re more agitated than a hungry vegan at a pig roast.

Murder in the Locked Library–wonderful quotes…weak plot

Murder in the Locked Library

by Ellery Adams

Murder in the Locked LibraryI was prepared to love Murder in the Locked Library. I am a bibliophile! How could I not love a cozy mystery about books with a cover that beckons “Sit down and read a while.”? I am sorry to say the book plodded along until about three-fourths of the way through when something happened that totally engaged me. I won’t spoil the book by saying what that event was.

I loved all the literary references and quotes, and I gradually began to understand what the purpose of Storyton Lodge is. And therein lies the second problem: Murder in the Locked Library really, really, really should not be read as a standalone. I did searches within the book to find the first references to “Guardian” and “Fin” thinking I had overlooked their introduction. I even did an Internet search on the terms to see if I had missed references in popular culture. My searches were fruitless. With background knowledge from previous books, this one would have been more enjoyable, but that still doesn’t solve the problem of the first part of the book lacking interest. 

I would like to extend my thanks to and to Kensington Books for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 3/5

Category: Mystery

Notes: #4 in the Book Retreat Mystery Series. It does not work well as a standalone.

Publication:  April 24, 2018—Kensington Books

Memorable Lines:

Even the pleasant cacophony in the kitchens—the thud of a cleaver striking wood, the hiss of steam, the rush of water, the scrape of metal against metal, and the endless dip and swell of voices as the staff chatted and bantered with each other—couldn’t distract Jane.

“We’re among our kind. We’re with book people. People who love everything about books. The history of books. The illustrations. The typography. The paper, covers, edges. The significance of an original manuscript or a signed copy. These people also understand the power of books. They understand how books can impact the world, one reader at a time. They respect the book, as we do.”

She believed they were dancing to his tune, and it was a tune without melody or rhyme. It was the steady tick of a metronome—a metaphor for all the time he’d invested in this scheme. And he wanted a return on his investment.

The King Who Left His Kingdom/El Rey Que Dejó Su Reino

The King Who Left His Kingdom

El Rey Que Dejó Su Reino

written by Deanna Altman

illustrated by Lisa Mueller

The King Who Left His KingdomThe publisher provides this summary of The King Who Left His Kingdom: “This book is provided in English and Spanish under one cover. A story of love given by Jesus as he leaves his kingdom of light to show the way to people who are in darkness. A magnificent, simple and clear way to show children the real sacrifice God made by sending his son. This evangelistic tool can be used to show the gospel to children in a very simple, yet beautiful way making a contrast between God’s kingdom of light, and the darkness in our world.”

With this intent of the book in mind, I must say that it fell short of the mark. I really wanted to like it, but young children are very literal and I don’t think they would understand the symbolism provided by this book. It is more of an allegory than children of the intended ages can handle. For example, Jesus speaks of His Father’s kingdom and the people want to go there. Jesus tells them “ ‘No, you cannot go there without someone making a way. The darkness blocks your way. There is only one way; I must make a bridge,’ the Son-king said. He walked to Jerusalem and paid a price. He made a path with blood; with wood and nails he paved the way to make a bridge for His friends.” The illustration shows people walking across a chasm on a bridge (perhaps sprinkled with blood?) in the shape of a cross. As an adult and a Christian, I understand what the author is saying. This is an old evangelical depiction of sin separating us from God and the cross bridging the gap, but I wouldn’t have understood this when I was a child. I’m not sure there is even enough there for an unchurched adult to understand the sacrifice Jesus made to save people from their sins.

I think it is commendable to have the book in both English and Spanish, but no credit is given to the translator. Even if the author is the translator, that should have been noted. I appreciate author Deanna Altman’s efforts to share God’s incredible gift, but it is not something I would share with children ages 5-8 or grades K-3 as recommended.

I would like to extend my thanks to and to First Edition Design Publishing  for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 2/5

Category: Children’s Nonfiction, Christian

Notes: Publisher’s Recommended Age Range: 5-8

Publisher’s Recommended Grade Level: K-3

Publication:  April 3, 2018—First Edition Design Publishing

Murder at the Mushroom Festival–beautiful setting for terrible mayhem

Murder at the Mushroom Festival

by Janet Finsilver

Murder at the Mushroom FestivalMurder, poisoning, blackmail, theft, destruction of Native American lands, assault, and threats! There’s plenty of action in Redwood Cove, a coastal town in northern California where lots of folks are gathering for the Mushroom Festival. Kelly Jackson, new manager of the Redwood Cove Bed-and-Breakfast finds herself in the middle of trouble when she and the Silver Sentinels, a group of amateur sleuths with wisdom and connections on their side, try to find a murderer and determine if the other crimes are related.

Murder at the Mushroom Festival kept me wondering at the identity of the villain as suspicion was thrown on various characters. The solution is much more complicated than one might imagine. Kelly and her Miss Marple-like fellow sleuths are likable. Two children, several dogs and a truffle snuffling pig add further interest. I enjoyed learning about mushrooms and about sinker redwood as the mystery progressed.

I would like to extend my thanks to and to Lyrical Underground (Kensington Press) for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Mystery

Notes: #4 in the Kelly Jackson Mystery Series, but worked well for me as a standalone.

Publication:   April 17, 2018—Kensington Press (Lyrical Underground)

Memorable Lines:

He parked, and we got out in what I felt was an enchanted forest. I breathed in the life of the woodland around me. Musty, sweet, earthy, topped off with a sprinkling of salt from the nearby ocean. Spears of sunlight cut through the towering redwoods like beacons to highlight certain areas. A raven cawed, loud and raucous, as we walked through a sunlit glen. A hawk drifted overhead, soaring on the wind currents.

The waves varied in intensity. When a strong one hit the rocky shoreline, water exploded high into the air. The rise and fall of the swell, like a creature breathing, made the ocean a living body.

People who were sure their way was the only way could make life unpleasant.

Bad Neighbors–another fun ride with Agnes and Effie

Bad Neighbors

by Maia Chance

Bad NeighborsGrab your hat for a whirlwind ride with Agnes, a self-professed nerd, and her wacky Aunt Effie in Maia Chance’s new cozy mystery Bad Neighbors. Agnes, recovering from the breakup of a long term relationship, has still not unpacked her boxes as she continues to try to figure out her future. Meanwhile Agnes, Effie, and cousin Chester take on their first four guests at the Stagecoach Inn, which they have only barely begun to remodel. Their four nonpaying guests are part of a tour group who have come to small town Naneda to view the changing leaves. Unfortunately their bus broke down. The whole town scurries to accommodate the tour bus participants because the town is also hosting their Harvest Festival along with the obnoxious judge of a yearly contest among towns in the area.

With this autumnal backdrop, the plot thickens as one of the locals is found murdered and Agnes’ old high school flame Otis is a suspect. Along the way there is a lot of suspicion thrown on various characters, and Agnes picks up a lot of ridicule from various townspeople who resent her sleuthing. Her arch rival turns out to be the snarky cupcake queen Delilah who sets her eyes on Otis.

Agnes, Effie, and their gaggle of equally quirky guests engage in numerous adventures in the name of investigations. Agnes has some close brushes with death and seriously considers leaving the craziness of the Stagecoach Inn behind to return to graduate school. What will it take to discover the murderer and to invest Agnes fully in life in Naneda? The end of this fun and humorous cozy mystery will reveal all.

I would like to extend my thanks to and to Crooked Lane Books for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Mystery

Notes: #2 in the Agnes and Effie Mystery Series, but works as a standalone

Publication:  April 6, 2018—Crooked Lane Books

Memorable Lines: 

…in my “new” car. This was a fifteen-year-old whitish minivan that looked like a cross between a handheld Dustbuster and the Space Shuttle. Its undercarriage was about two inches from the ground and bumped and scraped on every last pebble. At speeds over forty-five miles per hour, it felt in danger of disintegration.

To say I had butterflies in my stomach is an understatement. It felt as if I had pterodactyls swooping around in there.

Over the past weeks, our new relationship had felt like a fragile, enhanced bubble. I had made sure not to get too comfortable, because if I got comfortable, settled in, made myself at home, it would hurt that much more when the bubble inevitably popped. 

My Teacher’s Not Here!–read this to your class!

My Teacher’s Not Here!

written by Lana Button

illustrated by Christine Battuz

My Teacher's Not Here!My Teacher’s Not Here! is an endearing story designed to help children adapt to change, particularly the fear of a substitute teacher in the early childhood years. In so many cases, teachers become substitute parents and much more as they guide twenty or more students through a specially designed routine and know the needs of each student.

The teachers and children in this book are adorably depicted as a variety of animals. The story is told in predictable rhyming patterns from the viewpoint of a cute, apprehensive kitten. Their loving teacher has left a note for the children saying she is counting on them to help Mr. Omar (a giraffe), and so the little kitty overcomes her fears and does everything she can to be helpful.

I highly recommend this book for reading to a classroom. It will help allay anxieties and prepare students for that inevitable time when the teacher will be absent. Although the illustrations depict a preschool classroom, students in K-2 would also enjoy the message and the rhymes.

I would like to extend my thanks to and to Kids Can Press for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Children’s Fiction

Notes: Ages 4-8

Grades P-2

Publication:   April 3, 2018—Kids Can Press

Memorable Lines:

Smiling Miss Seabrooke should be here to meet me.

But my teacher is missing and NOT here to greet me.


Someone is standing 

in MY teacher’s spot.

He’s ginormously TALL.

Miss Seabrooke is not.

Fiction Can Be Murder–death by poisoning

Fiction Can Be Murder

by Becky Clark

Fiction Can Be MurderWhat does a pickle jar have in common with an unpublished manuscript used as the blueprint for murder? Take a trip to beautiful, sunny, snowy Denver to meet mystery author Charlee Russo and her writing support group who suddenly find themselves under suspicion of murder along with about ten other people in Becky Clark’s Fiction Can Be Murder.

This book follows the fairly standard expectations for a cozy mystery. The main character tries to solve the crime to clear herself and her friends. She has romantic entanglements to work through. Her brother, who plays a very small role, is a cop, but Carlee mainly deals with two detectives in an antagonistic role. The characters range from interesting to quirky.

While Fiction Can Be Murder will not go down as one of the greats in mysteries, it provides an enjoyable read that will keep you guessing at “whodunnit.” I particularly enjoyed Clark’s humorous turn of phrase in descriptions and dialogue, and I will be looking for the next book in the series.

I would like to extend my thanks to and to Midnight Ink for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 4/5

Category: Mystery

Notes: #1 in the Mystery Writer’s Mystery Series

Publication:   April 8, 2018—Midnight Ink

Memorable Lines:

The closest I came to having servants was watching Downton Abbey.

This was one of the few times I longed for a sturdy landline I could slam down. Hanging up with attitude was simply not satisfactory on cellphones.

I will admit to getting sucked into the Grocery Store Apocalyptic Group-Think Drama once, the day before a blizzard. I saw there were only two pounds of butter on the shelf and I grabbed them both. I didn’t need butter, and certainly not eight sticks of it, but I felt the pull of that panic. What if I did need it? What if I ran out? How would I survive for two whole days with only the single stick of butter I’ve had in my refrigerator for the last three months?

Dr. Coo and the Pigeon Protest–pigeons just want to be loved

Dr. Coo and the Pigeon Protest

written by Sarah Hampson

illustrated by Kass Reich

Dr. Coo and the Pigeon ProtestDr. Coo and the Pigeon Protest is a sweet but nonrealistic story for children. I don’t mean unrealistic in the sense that it is fiction. Indeed it is fiction and talking birds can be expected. My issue with the book is that its goal is to show how even those with differences can work to get along with each other…and I believe in that. The problem is that the basis for compromise is based on promises the pigeons can not keep such as refraining from “splatting on cars (and heads)” and instead use only designated compost areas for their droppings, keeping public areas clean. In exchange people will not put spikes on ledges, shoo pigeons away, or run them down with cars. These are nice sentiments but the pigeons, being pigeons, can not keep up their end of the bargain. This concept just does not translate over to two groups of people trying to live in harmony. 


The book is well written and the illustrations are appealing, their style going well with the text. The best part of the book is the idea Dr. Coo, a pigeon, has for getting people’s attention so they can negotiate. I would say to the team, “Give it another go with a different idea or even a different solution. I just would not buy this for my own children or for my classroom as is.

I would like to extend my thanks to and to Kids Can Press for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 3/5

Category: Children’s Fiction

Notes: Ages 4-8

Grades P-2

Publication:   April 3, 2018—Kids Can Press

Memorable Lines:

The conversation started out as it normally did.

They cackled about the supply of corn kernels in the park.

They nattered about the nearing of winter.

They prattled about new perches.

Ebb and Flow–some good in everyone

Ebb and Flow

by Heather T. Smith

Ebb and FlowEbb and Flow is a sad, emotionally laden story of sins, redemption and forgiveness. It is written in free verse and as such leads to tremendous teaching opportunities. Because rhyming poetry is so easily identifiable for children, it can be difficult to explain the difference between poetry and prose when the poetry does not rhyme. Ebb and Flow is a whole book of examples to demonstrate the concept. It also is an excellent exemplar of poetry as a form of storytelling. The poems in this book demonstrate the effectiveness of well-chosen words. All of these ideas are appropriate to the intended age range of eight to twelve years (grades four to seven).

As an adult I was moved by the book which lets Jett tell his own story of a father in jail, a move to a new town intended to provide a fresh start, and a disastrous year in the new surroundings. There is hope for Jett in a summer visit to a think-outside-the-box grandmother who sees the good in Jett and provides opportunities for him to work through his issues. Although  the problems addressed in the book are a reality to be endured for some children, in general they are above the maturity level of most eight year olds: child abuse, spousal abuse, incarceration, homelessness, and the maturity level of some special needs adults. While it could be helpful to some children, it could be frightening to others. Some parents would also object to the expletives found in two places in the book; personally I didn’t understand their inclusion as they did not add to the book in any way.

Thus I recommend the book with the reservation of parental guidance needed for language and content. There is little that is graphic but the overtone is emotionally charged despite the hopeful ending.

I would like to extend my thanks to and to Kids Can Press for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 4/5

Category: Children’s Fiction, Poetry

Notes: 1. warnings for domestic violence and swearing

  2. Age Range: 8-12 years

  3. Grade Level: 4-7

Publication:  April 3, 2018—Kids Can Press

Memorable Lines:

I just wanted to say

I’m glad you are here.

And all of a sudden, 

I was more than just air.



you think,

when I grow up,

I can be someone?

Grandma’s face went soft.

You ARE someone, dear.

You’re my Jett.


She gave me the room in the attic,

the one with the view of the sea.

Of all the rooms

in all the world

it was the awesomest room

of them all.

It made me feel cozy

and glow-y

and warm,

like a light had turned on

in my heart.

Whisper the Dead–complex mystery

Whisper the Dead

by Stella Cameron

Whisper the DeadWhisper the Dead starts off with anything but a whisper. The reader and Alex Duggins, owner of the pub The Black Dog in Folly-on-Weir, are thrown immediately into a violent scene which segues into fire and explosions. This cozy mystery focuses more on the mystery than the cozy as Alex finds herself caught up in a chain of events with threads that go off in multiple directions and soon become a tangle involving a real estate developer and his family, seemingly unrelated  townspeople, and Alex’s own mother and her personal history. It’s hard to see initially how all of these can be related and understand how and why Alex can be at the center of it all.

Author Stella Cameron works magic with words, characters, and plot. If you have been following the series, you will be glad to reconnect with the locals of Folly-on-Weir. If not, you will find that you get to know them quickly, including the likable veterinarian Tony who is always Alex’s support and sounding board. Should you be searching for a complex mystery in the cozy mystery genre, look no further than Whisper the Dead.

I would like to extend my thanks to and to Severn House for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Mystery

Notes: #5 in the Alex Duggins Mystery Series, but good as a standalone

Publication:   April 1, 2018—Severn House

Memorable Lines:

Too much emotion had rushed in since yesterday and it muddied her thoughts. This pile up of personality clashes made a hard time harder.

Smoke from cottage chimneys rose straight into the still, pink-tinged, early-morning sky. Snow sliding from the bare branches of an oak tree swished to softly pepper the drifts below.

The windows, cranked open a measly half-inch, had lost any battle with the coating of hot air and thick, grimy steam that painted the glass. More falling snow closed away the scene outside, but they all knew it was as cold as hell wasn’t, and sleet was starting to strafe the land.

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